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Patrick Dunkley champions change

Stanford’s new vice provost for institutional equity, access and community talks about creating a more equitable and inclusive campus community.

Patrick Dunkley appreciates a challenge. And he’s taken on a big one as vice provost for institutional equity, access and community at Stanford.

Patrick Dunkley (Image credit: Courtesy Patrick Dunkley)

In this new role, Dunkley serves as executive director of the university’s IDEAL (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access in a Learning Environment) and racial justice initiatives, and also directs the Office of Institutional Equity and Access, providing leadership for critical programs that support internal communities at Stanford.

He also currently serves as co-chair of the university’s Community Board on Public Safety, which was created to advise university leadership on community safety and campus policing, and co-leads the IDEAL Staff Advisory Committee.

Prior to his appointment as vice provost last April, he served as deputy athletics director and senior university counsel, overseeing human resources, legal affairs and NCAA compliance in the athletics department.

We asked him about his new role and how he sees the university moving forward on its DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) goals.


You’ve taken on a very big job here at Stanford. What have you learned since taking on the role and how has that informed your priorities moving forward?

You are right, it is a big job. Fortunately, I’m not alone – many people at Stanford are developing an increasing awareness of many of the systemic issues that have plagued underrepresented populations on our campus for many years.

One of the things I have gained is a deeper understanding of the passion on our campus to address issues of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. Certainly, this passion exists in our communities of color, and this group carries a great deal of the burden of the work in this area along with other marginalized communities. But there are also many allies who are steadfast advocates for the kind of change our community desperately needs. The combination of these two groups – underrepresented communities and allies – is a formidable force in the fight to eradicate bias on our campus in general and, in particular, the anti-Black racism that has been laid bare since the murder of George Floyd.

I have also learned there are communities on our campus, such as our disabled and non-cisgender/non-binary communities, whose voices often go unheard in the dialogue about diversity, equity and inclusion. Our DEI efforts need to amplify the voices of these communities and address their needs to ensure everyone is included and everyone feels like they belong.

Another thing I have learned is that there are many on our campus who are either unaware of the existence or the extent of the issues faced by marginalized communities. This awareness disparity will have a significant influence on priorities going forward.

It is critical that we capitalize on the confluence of the energy behind the efforts of the champions of change and the climate that may have made the unaware more receptive to opportunities to learn. History reminds us that there have been spurts of energy focused on effectuating systemic change in the past. We cannot afford to allow this current opportunity to slip through our fingers. We must make it a priority to galvanize our community into sustainable action now while attention remains on these issues that are critical to the long-term success of Stanford.


What are some of the challenges the university faces in reaching its goal to become more diverse, inclusive and equitable?  

Two of the biggest challenges we face are scope and time.

What do I mean by scope? One challenge we encounter is helping our community to view DEI through the appropriate lens. There are many who, when one mentions DEI, immediately focus solely on race and ethnicity. While race and ethnicity are critical components of DEI and the catalyst for much of the work in this area, thinking only in these terms is too narrow of a view.

“An environment that is equitable and inclusive is one in which every person has the opportunity to engage in their best work every day without bias, harassment, discrimination or any barriers that prevent or undermine them from being their whole self.”

When a community truly focuses on DEI at its highest level it includes race and ethnicity, but also, among other characteristics, gender, disability, age, education, income, geographic upbringing and religion. Solutions to issues are much more robust when we have the broadest spectrum of backgrounds involved in the discussion. We need to overcome the challenge of people failing to appreciate the benefit broad diversity brings to problem solving and focus our attention on the need to be disciplined and intentional to build teams that honor, respect and give voice to all members.

Another significant challenge is time. The DEI issues that exist on our campus and more broadly in our society are not new. The systems, processes and patterns of behavior that gave rise to these issues have existed for decades, and in some cases centuries. The type of change necessary to reverse these conditions will not occur overnight. It will require persistent effort for a sustained period of time, and by that I mean years. In many cases, the people on the front lines of this effort are people of color who have been advocating and hoping for change for a long time. Fighting for the basic rights and opportunities they see their colleagues receive as a matter of right is both discouraging and fatiguing.

In addition to being fatigued, communities of color have also grown impatient with waiting. They want action and they want it promptly. There is a profound mismatch between the amount of time it will take to overturn these systems of inequity and the patience of those advocating for systemic changes. This places a premium on making continual progress to keep the agents of change engaged and hopeful that the current advancement is not another temporary detour from a well-worn path while setting expectations that the journey to the final destination of a diverse, inclusive and equitable university will be a long one.

Finally, accomplishing these goals requires persistent institutional will. At the highest level, the president, provost and Board of Trustees have demonstrated this institutional will, but that is not enough. It needs to permeate every level at Stanford.


Since its inception in 2018, the IDEAL initiative has really taken off, with efforts in every school and unit across the campus. What are your goals for IDEAL this year?

The goals for this coming year will be significantly influenced by the outcome of the campus-wide DEI Survey that was administered last May. The survey results will be released before the end of this quarter, and those results will help us to include voices of the campus community in how we address our problems, where we put our resources and will inform the actions we take to reach our goal of a truly inclusive university.

Once the community reviews the survey results, we will need to engage with schools, units and other campus constituencies to assess the thoughts of the community and develop goals for the year. It is difficult and probably premature to establish goals before the release of the DEI survey data.


How do you see the work of the SHARE Title IX office, which is under your purview, fitting in with Stanford’s DEI and racial justice initiatives? 

An environment that is equitable and inclusive is one in which every person has the opportunity to engage in their best work every day without bias, harassment, discrimination or any barriers that prevent or undermine them from being their whole self.

The SHARE Title IX office is staffed with compassionate professionals dedicated to preventing sexual harassment, sexual violence and gender discrimination at Stanford. This mission is aligned with the university’s DEI goals. It would be difficult, if not impossible, for someone experiencing these deleterious behaviors to do their best work, fully feel a sense of inclusion and belonging and feel that they are being treated equitably.

One of the key roles the SHARE Title IX office plays is to educate our entire community – students, postdocs, faculty and staff. Through these efforts, the SHARE Title IX office contributes considerably to establishing and reinforcing a culture that promotes equity, inclusion and belonging for all university members.


In the future, what does DEI look like at Stanford? How will we know IDEAL succeeded? 

I am very optimistic about the future of DEI at Stanford. We have the institutional commitment from the president and provost, and we have already made good progress on some very meaningful work. That said, I know we still have a very long way to go. The work ahead of us is not work that will be completed in weeks or months. I realize that is a difficult message for many.  It is for me.

While my optimism far outweighs my caution about the length of the journey ahead, I think it is important to set expectations. What does that look like? It looks like a focused and persistent effort. It looks like a consistent effort to hear the voices of our marginalized and underrepresented communities and listening to and educating our entire campus. It is understanding that DEI is a process that gradually builds momentum through the transparency, goal setting and accountability that comes from a community that is committed to the unifying and lofty ideal expressed by Provost Drell when she said, “Stanford’s excellence is only possible through embracing diversity and ensuring our community is inclusive for all.”

Finally, it is a community that through hard work and trust transforms an effort like IDEAL from a campus initiative, i.e. something we do, into a cultural imperative, i.e. who we are, such that it is woven into the very fabric of our university. When we can accomplish this we will know we have succeeded.