March 2017 Update on Diversity, Inclusion, and Cohesion at Sewanee

This year the University community has been especially engaged in diversity, inclusion, and cohesion. As of August, planning was underway for a large number of events, from orientation book discussions to lectures and symposia. A list is available here. Over the course of the fall semester, new initiatives began, many in response to the diversity, equity, and inclusion task force reports from last year. Given this range of activity, it is time for another update. The Committee on Diversity, Inclusion, and Cohesion believes that there is much to celebrate, as well as much to do.


Toward a more diverse student body, this fall a College Enrollment Planning group formed to set new targets in academic profile, diversity, and other measures, as well as a road map for achieving them, now that the previously set targets have been achieved. This group, chaired by Vice President and Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Lee Ann Backlund, includes Eric Benjamin, Sid Brown, Kim Heitzenrater, Curtis Johnson, and Divine Maloney, C’17. A Research on Diversity and Inclusion group also formed, to understand more fully how the educational benefits of diversity may be achieved through the various sectors of the undergraduate experience, including curriculum, programming, and student life as well as faculty and staff diversity. This group is chaired by Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Inclusion Elizabeth Skomp, includes Manuel Chinchilla, Nicky Hamilton, and Betsy Sandlin, with the research assistance of Abby Colbert.Toward diversifying the faculty, the University is recruiting and supporting faculty of color through a grant from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund. Among other forms of assistance, the grant provides for mentoring of faculty of color by colleagues across the academy.

Toward diversifying the staff, the University is attending not only to positions recruited nationally, but also to local recruitment. With the help of Professor Angela Jordan, Sewanee Dining reached out to the Hispanic community in Winchester and recently hired two food service staff. Recognizing that a faculty and staff that is diverse at all levels requires not only attention to recruitment, but also attention to ongoing support and development, the University is piloting leadership and management development workshops and programs that are reaching more women and people of color, preparing them to be strong candidates for positions of greater responsibility.


Activities in support of a more inclusive community this year have been many. College first-year orientation included discussions of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, as well as directed programming on inclusivity, and the School of Theology’s orientation again included a pilgrimage to Hayneville, Ala., to honor the martyr Jonathan Myrick Daniels. For faculty, the Center for Teaching held programs on inclusive pedagogy, and the Posse Foundation sponsored a weekend workshop for student leaders, faculty, and staff. A number of speakers, from Bob Herbert to Terrell Strayhorn to Jennifer Hochschild, engaged questions of inclusion locally and nationally. A symposium entitled Incorporating Equality: The First 150 Years of the Fourteenth Amendment featured nationally recognized scholars in considering the evolving concepts of citizenship in the United States. Mayor Joe Riley, Jr., spoke at Founders’ Day Convocation on Charleston’s efforts toward inclusion. Most recently, the American Spiritual Ensemble completed a residency in Sewanee. Many, many people assisted in this effort: Neil Alexander, Katherine Anderson, Caitlin Berends, C’20, Eva Bogino, C’20, Kelly Caviness, C’18, François Clemmons, Ruth Cobb, Liam Corley, C’20, Hannah Garey, C’19, Marichal Gentry, Karen Guevara, C’19, Madeleine Hitel, C’20, César Leal, Meredith Lehman, C’20, Tom Macfie, Stephen Miller, Terry Papillon, Maria Trejo, C’20, Jessica Usherwood, Geoffrey Ward, Jennifer Whitehead, C’20, and Prakash Wright.

Beyond these events, more and more University faculty, staff, and students are directly engaged in inclusivity. Last year, the University Chaplain asked that a bishop’s chair constructed by slave labor on the Leighton Plantation be moved to the University Archives, recognizing that the complex history of the chair makes it a historical artifact deserving of full documentation and security, as compared to a furnishing to be used on a regular basis. This fall, through the efforts of Professor Woody Register and staff member Tanner Potts, the University joined the consortium Universities Studying Slavery, and Professor Register is preparing a proposal for a focused consideration of the University’s history in this regard. This semester, the University hired its first full-time student accessibility services director, Donald Norman. Furthermore, taking a leadership role on campus, Nora Viñas, C'17, launched the Latinx Initiative toward greater inclusivity of Spanish-speaking students and families. Thanks to her efforts, work is underway to provide an alternative, Spanish/English bulletin at Commencement. Finally, faculty and staff are developing classes utilizing intergroup dialogue methods of communication to study difficult issues across divides such as race, class, religion, and politics. This fall, Nicky Hamilton, Senior Associate Director of Civic Engagement, and Professor Paige Schneider of the Department of Politics will teach the first, 2-credit hour course, entitled Intergroup dialogue: Race and Class.


Finally, in support of a more cohesive campus community, the University has launched two groups to examine how to provide opportunities for as many people as possible in a context of limited financial and physical resources. A Study Abroad Funding Group, chaired by Vice President for Finance Doug Williams, is examining models for financial aid for undergraduate study abroad in order to provide as many undergraduates as are interested with quality experiences abroad. This group includes Liesl Allingham, Lee Ann Backlund, Scott Wilson, and Courtney World. Director of Physical Plant Services Mike Gardner is chairing a Rental Housing Review Group to consider condition, customer service, policy and procedure, and pricing of the rental housing pool for faculty, staff, and seminarians. This group includes Chris Carlson, Ryan Currie, T’18, Kellan Day, T’19, Nancy Mann, Connie Patton, Matt Rudd, and Elizabeth Skomp.

This year is a remarkably active year for the University on issues of diversity, inclusion, and cohesion, and the extent to which faculty, staff, and students are taking part is impressive. We are encouraged by this activity, and by the progress to which that activity may lead us. We hope that you will add your own efforts to those already underway. There is more work yet to do this year and in the years to come.