Diversity committee reflects on a semester of public engagement

Dec. 19, 2013

by Valeria Davis

As the fall semester draws to a close, so does the first round of engagement sessions aimed at formulating UW-Madison’s new draft framework for diversity.

Committee leaders say the work in the spring of 2014 will be even more crucial. The final draft of “Forward Together: UW-Madison’s Framework for Diversity and Inclusive Excellence” will be presented to shared governance groups late this spring, with an approved version passed on to Chancellor Rebecca Blank.

Ruth Litovsky and Ryan Adserias, co-chairs of the campus Ad Hoc Diversity Planning Committee, thanked the campus and community participants for providing valuable feedback, affirmation and substance for both the diversity framework and the beginning of specific steps that will result in an updated approach to inclusion.

“This is not our first attempt at improving our efforts, and hopefully we’re getting better, as seen through the proliferation of diversity across campus.”

Ruth Litovsky

“UW-Madison has a long history of acknowledging its shortcomings on diversity and inclusion,” says Litovsky, professor of communication sciences and disorders. “This is not our first attempt at improving our efforts, and hopefully we’re getting better, as seen through the proliferation of diversity across campus — more than a hundred offices, programs and initiatives that have been put in place over the past 20 years. We’re now focusing on positioning the institution so that it can refine our success and launch novel efforts in our inclusion.”

Committee members are currently processing the input from the fall listening sessions, which included several meetings with student groups across campus. After winter break, the committee will begin to populate the draft plan with specific recommendations. Additional engagement sessions will take place in the spring, receiving input on how to move forward with the most pressing issues.

More than 200 people participated in the initial round of engagement sessions, providing feedback on topics that range from the need for information on admission and scholarships for veterans and older adults to ways to assure Wisconsin’s youngest citizens — elementary and even preschool children — feel they have ownership and access to the state’s flagship institution.

Adserias, a graduate student in educational leadership and policy analysis, notes that the inherent nature of a higher education setting means that the committee’s work is constrained by an ever-changing student population. At the same time, he says, students are the ultimate beneficiaries — from experiencing an inclusive campus climate to expanding the breadth and relevancy of the learning experience.

Students are the ultimate beneficiaries, Adserias says — from experiencing an inclusive campus climate to expanding the breadth and relevancy of the learning experience.

“It’s important that we provide ‘consecutive snapshots’ to document and incorporate key information on their experience, feedback and recommendations with respect to the diversity plan,” says Adserias. “In fact, the transience of students is more or less what will drive the ‘living document’ nature of our plan, if we’re successful in devising a framework that includes methodology for ongoing feedback and revision for effectiveness.”

Litovsky acknowledges that community engagement could be improved. Community participants agreed that current outreach efforts are welcomed, but too few in number — and that events the community might have interest in are not well advertised.

Other issues touched on by engagement participants both on and off campus included the need for a more diverse faculty, a more cordial and welcoming attitude toward campus visitors and minorities, and inclusion in the UW-Madison micro-economy through increased hiring, contracting and financial assistance to attend the university. All of these factors and more would improve a sense of shared purpose for the institution’s existence, participants added.  

“We appreciate everyone who participated, in any way, in our initial efforts to formulate the future direction and goals for diversity at the university,” says Litovsky. “It was rewarding to see just how much members of our campus and community care about the work that we do, and how we can do it better at every level.”

Since February 2013, a team of campus and community members has been at work developing an innovative framework for guiding, shaping and strengthening UW-Madison’s commitment to inclusive excellence and innovation.

As the flagship institution of the UW System, UW-Madison is dedicated to intentionally integrating diversity efforts into core aspects of the university’s mission, maximizing success and participation among all members of the UW-Madison community. This specifically includes the university’s academic priorities, leadership, quality improvement initiatives, decision-making, day-to-day operations and organizational cultures.

Participants can see more about the work of the committee on the Web or contact the committee at jointhediscussion@cdo.wisc.edu or 608-262-0579.