It’s been a year since the State System’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion was established. Time really does fly by when you’re having fun and, albeit intense, I continue to enjoy all the intentional and hard work we are engaging in throughout the State System to create and maintain a diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization.
During the July quarterly Board of Governors meeting, I presented an update that included a progress report on the five State System strategic DEI priorities the Board affirmed when it met in April. The strategic priorities remain: 1) Faculty, Staff, and Student Diversity; 2) Equitable Student Outcomes; 3) Inclusive Campus Environments; 4) Curriculum Diversity; and 5) Enabling Infrastructures.
State System Working Group
On June 25, the State System convened the first meeting of the Working Group on Understanding the First Amendment and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to Improve Campus Climates. This stellar group is comprised of members of the State System community including students, representative staff and leadership from academic affairs, student affairs, diversity and inclusion, campus police, the Board of Governors, and the Pennsylvania Association of Councils of Trustees (PACT). Here is the charge the group is following:
This working group will:
- work to achieve an understanding of the problem to address consistent with applicable law;
- evaluate university responses to incidents of bias and discrimination;
- recommend means of strengthening those responses after evaluation of
- relevant legal and regulatory environments, including those pertaining to the First Amendment and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act,
- evidence-based practices adopted at other public universities and university systems,
- student codes of conduct and their use at State System and other universities, including exploration of legally permitted ways to strengthen responses and penalties for violation of those codes that are currently thought to be protected by the First Amendment, and
- other inputs as may be deemed appropriate; and
- recommend a System framework or guidelines within which university practices are created and maintained, along with any resources that may be developed or procured by way of support.
Stay tuned for updates on the working group in the spring edition of Connectivity!
Senator Art Haywood Announces Funding to Support DEI
Below is an excerpt from Senator Haywood’s press release:
On July 21st, State Senator Art Haywood (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery) and Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) held a hybrid press conference at Kutztown University, to announce new funding for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives at PASSHE universities. Notable in-person speakers included Dr. Denise Pearson, Vice Chancellor and Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer at PASSHE, Dr. Kenneth S. Hawkinson, President of Kutztown University, and State Senator Judy Schwank (D-Berks), who was instrumental in advocating for the funds.
Read full release
We are grateful for the support of Senators Haywood, Schwank, Hughes, and the General Assembly. #LeadershipMatters! #PartnershipMatters!
I am looking forward to visiting each university in the coming academic year. The pandemic hindered my ability to meet face-to-face with students, faculty, and staff last year, but I am fully vaccinated now and ready to go! I hope to meet with as many groups as possible and return to Harrisburg with greater insight to keep us moving forward in the right direction.
Keep up the great work and continue to seek new ways of partnership and collaboration across the State System!
New Chief Diversity Officer
Albert Jones has been appointed to serve as the inaugural chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer for Lock Haven, Bloomsburg, and Mansfield Universities effective July 26. Mr. Jones is a Lock Haven alumnus and former member of its Council of Trustees. His home office will be at Lock Haven University. We are excited to have Mr. Jones join the State System’s Council of Chief Diversity Officers!
Read news article
In partnership and service,
Vice Chancellor and Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer
In this Issue
What We're Reading
The Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is hosting the 2021 PASSHE Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Summit virtually November 3-5. The theme, "Onward & Upward: Advancing DEI Mindsets through Impactful Action," reflects the State System’s commitment to building and maintaining a diverse, equitable, and inclusive space for faculty, staff and students to thrive. This important event will bring together researchers, practitioners, and other thought leaders to examine the economic, workforce, moral, and societal impetus for higher education's role in advancing DEI mindsets.
We are excited to have Daryl G. Smith, PhD, Senior Research Fellow and Professor Emerita of Education and Psychology at Claremont Graduate University, as one of our guest speakers. Smith is the author of
Diversity’s Promise for Higher Education: Making it Work, where she brings together scholarly and field research relevant to the next generation of diversity work. The book argues that achieving excellence in a diverse society requires increasing the institutional capacity for diversity while simultaneously working to understand how diversity is an imperative for excellence in leadership, curriculum, research in virtually every field, student success, accountability, and more equitable hiring practices.
The purpose of the summit is to share best practices that forge the way to advancing our thoughts on diversity, equity, and inclusion. If you are interested, you may
submit a proposal for the summit here. The PASSHE community can register at no cost here.
U.S. higher education generally champions pro-democracy and human rights calls to action. The United Farm Workers’ Sí Se Puede! (‘Yes, we can!’) support for migrant worker rights, and the recent U.S. Black Lives Matter and I Can’t Breathe civil rights anthems all represent battles by and for those subjugated by institutional domination and prejudice. They evoke the struggle and, when successful, victory over obstacles erected by the power structure to force non-dominant individuals and groups to either adapt or be penalized for nonconformity. However, while such discourse articulates agency in the face of oppression, language itself can become the focal point of systemic discrimination.
How could academia, historical advocate for progressivism and equality for all regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, creed, ability, and sexual orientation, be harboring a secret in plain sight? While higher education stakeholders righteously seek to rectify repressive policies and practices that harm the disadvantaged, one key identity marker is largely absent from consideration for how to educate our academic communities of practice fairly and successfully: language.
As Annamma & Morrison (2018), Flores & Rosa (2015), Lippi-Green (2012), and Milroy & Milroy (2012) argue, standard language ideology, or SLI, in the academy and throughout mainstream society privileges an idealized, white, male, middle-class, spoken (but written-grammar-based), and able-bodied Standard American English (SAE). As a socially constructed belief system, SLI endorses linguistic discrimination, the prejudice against and oppression of users of language varieties that differ from the perceived standard. Lippi-Green (2012) claims of U.S. society, “accent discrimination can be found everywhere in our daily lives…and is so commonly accepted, so widely perceived as appropriate, that it must be seen as the last back door to discrimination. And the door stands wide open” (74). Indeed, recent research demonstrates that higher education is complicit. While progress for issues like adopting preferred gender pronouns (Leff, 2013; Blaylock, 2020) is laudable, our universities have more work to do before we can equitably serve the educational needs of all our members, especially those who are non-SAE speaking.
From the references below, a selection of PK-12 and higher education case studies reveals how language discrimination impacts users of varieties other than SAE in instructional settings:
- ‘If We Don’t Teach Them, Who Will?’: Standard Language Ideology in the University English Classroom (H. N. Horton in Clements & Petray, 2021, pp. 38-54)
- ‘It Was a Black City’: African American Language in California’s Changing Urban Schools and Communities (D. Paris in Alim, Rickford, & Ball, Eds., 2016, pp. 241-253)
- International Teaching Assistants: Increasing Communicative Awareness and Understanding (K. Yaw & O. Yang in Clements & Petray, 2021, pp. 74-91)
- ‘Men Could Get Up in Front of a Classroom and Say Any Old Thing…’: Faculty Perceptions of Language and Gender in Higher Education (C. Myrick in Clements & Petray, 2021, pp. 110-138)
- Signs of Oppression in the Academy: The Case of Signed Languages (J. Henner & O. Robinson in Clements & Petray, 2021, pp. 92-109)
This list only scratches the surface of how SLI enables those with idealized notions about what language is academia’s prestige variety to (overtly or covertly) stigmatize users of other linguistic codes. Going forward, if we are to engage in policies and practices that support all community members, a more enlightened consideration of language use and users must be part of that framework. As Nair and Thomas (2018) affirm regarding community and social justice, we must respect one another as we negotiate and debate in our scholarly spaces.
Prejudice is learned and changeable – we can all benefit from scrutinizing our own linguistic biases and realize that different is not deficient; a person’s intelligence, ability, motivation, or worth is not a function of the language they use, no matter how far from our own or the one we might privilege. We can review our policies, curricula, course materials, assignments, technologies, and evaluation rubrics to update practices that suppress and subjugate non-SAE users and their home languages and cultures. We can welcome different discourses as new mediums of communication in the establishment. As we strive to create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive academic community, we can celebrate the language varieties that index such profound, noble, and multi-faceted dimensions of our identities.
Alim, H. S., Rickford, J. R., & Ball, A. F. (Eds.). (2016).
Raciolinguistics: How language shapes our ideas about race. Oxford University Press.
Annamma, S. & Morrison, D. (2018). Identifying dysfunctional education ecologies: A DisCrit analysis of bias in the classroom.
Equity & Excellence in Education, 51(2), 114-131.
Blaylock, R. (2020, 9 Jan). In an age of shifting attitudes about gender identity, ‘they’ was the word of the decade.Chicago Sun Times.
Clements, G., & Petray, M. J. (Eds.) (2021).
Linguistic discrimination is U.S. higher education: Power, prejudice, impacts, and remedies. Routledge.
Flores, N. & Rosa, J. (2015). Undoing appropriateness: Raciolinguistic ideologies and language diversity in education.
Harvard Educational Review, 85(2), 149-171.
Leff, L. (2013, 1 Dec).
‘Preferred’ pronouns gain traction at U.S. colleges. Diverse: Issues in higher education.
Milroy, J. & Milroy, L. (2012).
Authority in language: Investigating standard English (4th ed.). Routledge.
Nair, A. & Thomas, C. (2018, 2 Jan).
A social justice approach to building community in higher education today. Insight into Adversity.
What We're Reading
Is empathy a prerequisite to creating a sense of belonging? My role as Chief Diversity Officer at Shippensburg University is a gift of opportunity to help the State System community (students, faculty and staff) ensure that principles of equality triumph all day, every day. I chose the book "Prayers for Bobby," a story of one woman's journey from homophobia to acceptance. The price of Mary Griffith's acceptance is the 1983 death by suicide of her 20-year-old son Bobby. Discovering and reading Bobby's diaries after his death, the destructive impact of Mary's criticism, rejection, and condemnation of Bobby is too much for a mother to bear, as Mary believed she was helping Bobby save his eternal soul. Reading "Prayers for Bobby" will help us remember that the decisions and choices we make may have unintended consequences. Let us rejoice in the State System’s diversity by taking action to learn all that we can from each other and our unique beauty, walking through life with humility, grace, and empathy all day, every day.