Campus Conversation: Stanford’s ongoing DEI work and what still needs to be done
To discuss the university’s IDEAL initiative, Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Provost Persis Drell joined Patrick Dunkley, Shirley Everett and C. Matthew Snipp for a Campus Conversation on Wednesday.
Stanford has made strong strides in its efforts to advance diversity, equity and inclusion, which are critical to its success, university leaders detailed during a Campus Conversation focused on the IDEAL Initiative on Wednesday.
They added, however, that more work is needed, as indicated in the results of the campus-wide 2021 IDEAL DEI Survey on Campus Climate, which reflects serious issues around harassing and discriminatory behaviors impacting Black, Latinx, disabled and LGBTQ communities in particular.
“Advancing diversity, supporting equity, inclusion and access is really, really important to Stanford. The success of our teaching and research missions depends on it. Our future excellence depends on it,” said Provost Persis Drell. “If we can [create] positive change in this area, we will make Stanford better for everyone.”
Drell noted that DEI values are being infused into every aspect of campus, including the planning of the new school on climate and sustainability that is currently being developed.
However, DEI and racial justice work requires the commitment of everyone in the Stanford community, not just from leadership and marginalized communities, said Patrick Dunkley, vice provost for institutional equity, access and community and executive director of Stanford’s IDEAL and racial justice initiatives.
Dunkley cautioned that there’s a lot of work yet to be done and acknowledged that marginalized communities who have long been advocating for change feel that the campus is not changing quickly enough.
“We have to keep in mind that the things we are trying to change are issues and conditions and behaviors that have existed for years, and the process is going to take time,” Dunkley said. Leaders must give the community reasons to believe that substantial progress is being made as this work continues through action and transparency, he added.
Dunkley said he was encouraged by the increased dialogue on these issues since the DEI Survey results were announced, building on the institutional commitment needed for change.
Change in faculty
Matt Snipp, vice provost for faculty development, diversity and engagement, highlighted the various activities that his office, which is a service unit in the President and Provost’s Office, is engaged in, including writing workshops, supporting organized faculty interest groups and offering advice to search committees.
Last year, Stanford launched two significant efforts to advance faculty diversity: the Race in America cluster hire of 10 faculty members – including four in STEM fields – and the IDEAL Provostial Fellows. The first cohort of five fellows arrived in September, and a second cohort is expected to be announced soon.
Stanford is also providing incentive programs to encourage the hiring of diverse faculty, which can include minority scholars, women scholars and those who would bring additional dimensions to the university’s research and teaching programs. The number of minority faculty members has increased from 436 in 2011 to 638 in 2021. In the past year, there were 21 appointments involving diverse faculty, Snipp said.
Additionally, following a national search, Lerone A. Martin, associate professor of religious studies and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Centennial Professor, became the faculty director of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute in January, Snipp noted.
Shirley Everett, senior associate vice provost for Residential & Dining Enterprises (R&DE) and senior advisor to the provost on equity and inclusion, spoke about two IDEAL Staff Advisory Committee initiatives.
The IDEAL Learning Journey is a comprehensive staff learning program focused on building awareness and skills needed to change behaviors.
“We want participants to gain a common understanding of how discrimination and microaggressions can occur and to apply those learnings to transform our workplace culture so that each staff member feels respected and valued,” Everett said.
Also, the committee aims to pilot a standardized and redesigned approach to recruiting staff that can serve as a model for others across campus.
R&DE includes a diverse team of more than 800 full-time employees, many of whom commute long distances from communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic and effects of racial trauma, Everett said.
To support its diverse staff, R&DE offers innovative educational programs such as the Stepping Stones to Success program.
“They are extraordinary people who provide service excellence to our students and the Stanford community each day,” she said. “During this pandemic, we were fortunate to keep our staff employed.”
Stanford’s alumni and philanthropic supporters are galvanized by this work, Tessier-Lavigne said, and the Office of Development has been working hard to raise support for Long-Range Vision initiatives like IDEAL.
With their partnership, Stanford has created endowed directorships and programming funds for the ethnic community centers. The university is also in conversation with supporters about other areas of this work, including the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute, the Racial Justice Center in the Law School and the faculty cluster hires.
“Their enthusiasm for this work is important, not only to provide funding for these initiatives in our current moment, but because philanthropy, alongside with institutional investment, will help provide enduring financial support and make sure that these efforts will be a part of our university for the long term,” Tessier-Lavigne said.
Tessier-Lavigne also expressed Stanford leadership’s support of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), which have faced serious threats recently, including a series of bomb threats in the last few weeks.
“We condemn these efforts to intimidate Black Americans in these important institutions of higher education,” Tessier-Lavigne said. “HBCUs are centers for learning, culture and advocacy for the Black community and for our nation as a whole.”
Tessier-Lavigne urged the community to engage in some of the Black History Month events and conversations taking place on campus, many of which are listed on the Black Community Services Center website.
During the question-and-answer session, a community member shared an instance in which they said no further efforts were made to address microaggressions after they were reported to human resources and asked how staff can believe Stanford wants to improve.
Fall 2020 conversations with Black staff as well as DEI Survey results reflect this frustration and lack of faith in the system, Drell said. Echoing Tessier-Lavigne’s response, she said this is “unacceptable” and encouraged people to elevate complaints if they feel nothing is happening.
“This is something we have to do better at,” and that starts with acknowledging the issue, she said.
Dunkley added that efforts are underway to address such occurrences, including a group working on how to create a better reporting process with more safeguards and accountability.
Another person asked whether managers will go through the IDEAL Learning Journey first, given the DEI Survey data on their role in problematic behavior. Everett said while the goal is for all staff to participate, priority will be given to managers so they can start to reduce or mitigate these issues.
Dunkley invited those who want to get involved in IDEAL initiatives or have concerns to reach out to him directly so they can be best connected to resources.