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President's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force spurs change across Miami University

92% of the task force's 44 recommendations have been completed

Campus Life Student Success

President's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force spurs change across Miami University

#Workers are photographed installing the new sign for Nellie Craig Walker Hall in honor of Miami University's first Black graduate. The Board of Trustees approved the renaming shortly after the President's DEI Task Force made 44 recommendations in September 2020.()
Denise Taliaferro Baszile
Denise Taliaferro Baszile, a member of the 2020 DEI Task Force, says if we are "always willing to reflect on what is and what has been going on and to reimagine how we might do things differently to keep up,” then we can meet the challenges."

It’s been two years since Miami University President Gregory Crawford appointed the President’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Task Force to make recommendations aimed at building a more inclusive, diverse, safe, and welcoming climate.

Today, there is an overall completion rate of 92 percent of the 44 recommendations the task force presented to President Crawford and the President’s Executive Cabinet in September 2020, a recent progress report shows.

DEI leaders acknowledge there is still work to be done. They will address those recommendations not yet completed this summer and fall as the university moves toward developing its first DEI strategic plan.

Denise Taliaferro Baszile, professor of Educational Leadership and associate dean of diversity and student experience in the College of Education, Health, and Society, served on the task force. 

“I’ve been here 20 years and, honestly, I feel like this is the most momentum we’ve had around DEI and the initiatives,” she said. “We still have a ways to go, but I do feel like we’ve got a lot of momentum right now.”

That sentiment was echoed by Rodney Coates, professor of Global and Intercultural Studies, who has observed a noticeable shift for the first time since he arrived on the Oxford campus 32 years ago. “Things seem to be changing, ever so slowly but yes, change is happening,” he said.

Taliaferro Baszile is pleased with the progress made at Miami since “all of higher ed” was shaken by the summer of 2020 after the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man. A video showing a white police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck sparked widespread outrage and protests across the country and world.

Taliaferro Baszile said her “greatest hope is we keep pushing because this work has no final destination. It's an ongoing, constant effort, and sometimes you feel like you’re so far ahead, and then you’re not.”

She added, “But if you’re always coming to the table as a team, always willing to reflect on what is and what has been going on and to reimagine how we might do things differently to keep up,” she said, “if we stay true to that, then we can meet the challenges."

Nellie Craig Walker name hall installation
Workers are photographed (February 2021) installing the new sign for Nellie Craig Walker Hall in honor of Miami University's first Black graduate. The Board of Trustees approved the renaming of the Campus Avenue Building shortly after the President's DEI Task Force made 44 recommendations in September 2020.

A more inclusive campus

One of the first implemented recommendations — and perhaps the most visible — was the Board of Trustees’ approval in September 2020 to rename the Campus Avenue Building as Nellie Craig Walker Hall in honor of Miami’s first Black graduate.

Cristina Alcalde, vice president of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion and professor of Global and Intercultural Studies, called that decision “a significant step in a broader multi-prong approach to ensure a more inclusive campus that recognizes and values diverse legacies through steps that address physical structures as well as policies and systems.”

Alcalde is proud of the work that has been accomplished so far and “grateful to the DEI Task Force and all Miami community members who have contributed to these efforts,” she said. “A completion rate of 92% is an impressive one, and it is truly reflective of the strong commitment and collaborative efforts across units by Miami faculty, staff, and students.”

President Crawford formed the task force after spending several weeks listening to and speaking with students, faculty, staff, alumni, and colleagues. He was frustrated by the lack of progress in the face of persistent inequalities, both in the world and on Miami’s campuses. “At Miami University,” he said then, “we must all work to advance real and transformative change.”

Two years after he announced the new DEI task force on June 16, 2020, he sees the impact of its work.

President Crawford said the task force recommendations have had “an extraordinary impact on Miami's inclusive excellence mission. I'm humbled by the Miami community's enthusiasm to accomplish the task force's vision and recommendations.”

The president added, “This collaborative effort is truly a remarkable achievement that has further safeguarded Miami's future as a model institution for advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion."

The recommendations touch on multiple areas across campus, including revisions to the Global Miami Plan (resulting in a 12-credit component that includes diversity, equity, and inclusion, intercultural consciousness, and global inquiry).

Although a diversity statement requirement for all faculty candidates was not a task force recommendation, Alcalde said it reflects a best practice nationally and was one of her priorities after she joined Miami on July 1, 2021.

Alcalde leads the Office for Institutional Diversity and Inclusion (OIDI), which she said continues to undergo significant restructuring and development to better enable it to provide an integrated, holistic approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion through structures, policies, initiatives, and programming.

“This past year has been a very exciting and busy one as we focus on capacity-building, cultural transformation, structural change, and accountability and transparency to better reflect our DEI commitments,” she said.

Samuel Kwapong, Hiram Ramirez and Cristina Alcalde
Cristina Alcalde (right), vice president of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, with Samuel Kwapong (left) and Hiram Ramirez, who joined the office earlier this year as directors of Programming and Strategic Initiatives. They are pictured at the Freedom Summer Memorial on Western campus.

A new structure taking shape

Taliaferro Baszile credits  Alcalde with knocking down silos across campus and inviting everyone to the table.

“We didn’t have a whole university approach,” Taliaferro Baszile said, “so for me, working with Cristina has brought all of us to the table, and we are starting to share things, strategy, and different ideas.”

A new structure, led by OIDI, is taking shape. Here are some of the notable changes, according to Alcalde:

  • Created three new DEI leadership councils (academic units, divisions, and students) to ensure broad-based communication and coordination across units on DEI initiatives and planning.
  • Implemented a new diversity statement requirement for faculty candidates starting in September 2021 and revised search committee training focusing on implicit bias, strategies for addressing biases, and evaluation of diversity statements. To complement these efforts, OIDI is developing a Faculty Recruitment Toolkit to further strengthen recruitment and retention efforts.
  • Supplemented these structural and capacity-building efforts with workshops on diversity statements for students preparing to enter the job market.

 Others include:

  • The creation of a new religious observances and inclusive scheduling webpage and narrative calendar to complement the Academic Affairs calendar by providing guidance to help avoid scheduling important events, activities, and deadlines on holidays observed by members of the Miami community.
  • Comprehensive heritage month programming was launched this past year and geared to students, faculty, and staff, and new social media accounts were created to spread the word about programming and initiatives.
  • The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Online Course developed by OIDI in partnership with the President’s Office includes modules by faculty specializing in DEI topics. The course recently won a bronze Telly Award, the world's largest honor for video and television content across all screens, in the Online Series – Education and Discovery category. 
Dasha Wood
Dasha Wood '12, director of the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion, said, "It is truly surreal that exactly 10 years later, I am now the director of the very office that helped me make it to graduation.”

Dasha Wood’s full-circle moment

Dasha Wood ’12, director of the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion (CSDI), said one of the most memorable parts of her Miami experience was her time spent in the Office of Diversity Affairs, the predecessor to the CSDI.

“Gerald Yearwood was the director at the time, and I vividly remember spending time in his office in between classes. It would not be for any reason other than connecting with a staff member who looked like me and who could contribute to my success as a Black student at a predominately white institution,” she said. “Being a minority, it was important for me to find my community on campus, and because we were small in numbers, it made our experience closer and that much more special.”

Wood said Miami University sparked her interest in a career in higher education, “and it is truly surreal that exactly 10 years later, I am now the director of the very office that helped me make it to graduation.”

Wood said she is grateful for the experiences that were provided to her as a student and truly humbled to be able to provide an inclusive space for today's Miami students.

“There are a lot of people on this campus dedicated to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and while we still have a ton of work to do, I am proud to be a part of the change that is happening for our students.”

April Callis: ‘Miami feels more open to change’

April Callis, associate director of LGBTQ+ Initiatives in the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion, said she believes the university is doing a lot of great work, but she also sees “plenty of work still to be done. And when it specifically comes to the inclusion of LGBTQIA+ students, faculty, and staff, the university definitely still has work to do.”

Callis, who joined Miami last summer, also feels like there is positive momentum on campus.  

“I tell people all the time that Miami feels more open to change than any other institution I've worked at. When I talk to people about issues that I see around LGBTQIA+ inclusion, it often leads to conversations about change — people are willing to engage around the issues in a way that is really refreshing.”

For instance, Callis said she had a conversation with the Miami University Police Department this week on “how to be more affirming of our trans and nonbinary students. That's a huge step. I've gotten invited to lead trainings for campus health, for athletics, and for the PEC — all of these are great steps in the right direction.”

Rodney Coates with student athletes at the Seal
Rodney Coates, professor of Global and Intercultural Studies (center), pictured here with student-athletes, is pleased to see a focus on strategic planning. "These efforts will depend upon the efforts of all of us.” 

Next step: Miami's first DEI strategic plan

“Moving forward, a DEI strategic plan will allow us to more clearly identify and intentionally address university-wide and unit-specific action areas,” Alcalde said. “As part of our strategic planning efforts, this fall we are planning for a climate survey and faculty and staff stay interviews, to provide us with quantitative and qualitative data to help guide our planning.”

The three new councils through the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion — the Academic DEI Officers Leadership Council, the Divisional DEI Leadership Council, and the Student DEI Council — as well as CODI  (the Council on Diversity and Inclusion), which are key partners in ensuring communication, coordination, and planning across units, will also be key partners throughout the Strategic Planning process.

Since joining Miami this past February, the two new directors of Programming and Strategic Initiatives in OIDI, Hiram Ramirez and Samuel Kwapong, are hard at work “leading existing and new initiatives to help move us forward across areas that will support our strategic planning process,” Alcalde said.

Coates is happy to see a focus on strategic planning.

“Across Miami, at all levels, key academic units are designing and developing strategic diversity plans. These plans will be the next big step as Miami moves forward, and if done right, will establish benchmarks and accountable measures by which we can see where we have come, where we are at, and how far we need to go to reach our targets. 

“But with all things,” he cautioned, “these efforts will depend upon the efforts of all of us.” 

gregory crawford with international students at picnic
President Gregory Crawford meet students at the International Student Welcome Picnic at the start of the 2021-2022 academic year (photo by Scott Kissell).

The Five Pillars 

  • Dialogue and Allyship: explore ways to provide opportunities to engage in structured, well-facilitated, open dialogues. 85.7% recommendations complete.
  • Cultural Consciousness: Commit to lifelong learning and updating our awareness, knowledge, and skills to enrich and renew our intercultural competence. 100% recommendations complete.
  • Advocacy and Partnerships: Help students learn how to become effective advocates, responsible allies, engaged citizens and future leaders who will bring about positive, lasting change at Miami, in Oxford, in their local communities, in the state and in the nation. 88.9% recommendations complete.
  • Structural and Resource Support: Engage with each division on campus to explore and learn better ways to improve diversity and inclusion on campus. 100% recommendations complete.
  • Inclusion and Accountability: Explore recruitment, hiring, retention and promotion actions for underrepresented groups and ensure they are fair, equitable and always increasing and understand whether our curriculum is fully inclusive and reflective of all people. 75% recommendations complete.