MHC's New Diversity Initiatives

Thursday, February 14, 2008 - 13:06

Posted: February 14, 2008

Gladys Moore, who came to Mount Holyoke this past July as director of diversity and inclusion and dean of religious and spiritual life, has been working on several fronts to engage the campus in sustained efforts to promote dialogue and understanding across a host of differences that exist among students, faculty, staff, and administration.

Drawing on the four stated goals of the 2005 Report of the Presidential Commission on Diverse Community--to root out stereotyping and insensitivity, create a climate of achievement for all students, celebrate cultural diversity, and demonstrate institutional commitment--Moore has developed a series of fast-track and long-range goals and projects. She works closely with Lucas Wilson, director of academic development and associate professor of African American studies and economics; Tanya Williams, coordinator of multicultural affairs; and the Multicultural Community and College Life Committee. "We have intersecting pieces of work that belong to the whole campus," Moore said. Some of her fast-track projects include hosting a spring 2008 event, "Dialogue across Difference: Race and Racism," supporting the coordinator of multicultural affairs in planning an overnight retreat for ALANA students, and collaborating with the Alumnae Association to develop an alumnae-sister mentoring network.

Another project on Moore's fast track is to create a Mount Holyoke poster highlighting the various aspects of our campus's diversity. "This poster can be displayed in every building on campus to show who we are." Moore observed that there is enormous diversity within the ALANA population on campus, which includes international students as well as Latina, Asian, Native American, African American, and other groups. "It's challenging to cross the gap between domestic students of color and international students of color. A student from Zimbabwe and a student of color from California have very different experiences. It gets to be wonderfully complicated, complex, and challenging, but I like that."

Moore believes that to institute systemic change it is necessary to focus on faculty and staff, who have a more sustained presence here than students, who cycle in and out every four years. She would like to build diversity training into orientation for all new staff and faculty. She hopes over the long range to develop continuous opportunities for faculty and staff to create and participate in diversity-related forums, dialogues, and workshops. Moore noted that some of these activities are already under way. The College's ombudsperson, Carol Stewart, has recently conducted a series of training workshops for different departments on campus related to communication skills and conflict resolution. In addition, Tanya Williams planned and cofacilitated a daylong antiracism training event with the LITS staff. "These are good foundational tools for everyone to have," Moore said.

A couple of discussion groups also have been formed to explore issues of diversity. A group of faculty and staff called the White Ally Group meets every other week to discuss issues of race, class, gender, white privilege, and systemic oppression. The group, started last year by dean of students Liz Braun, allows people "to learn about difference and grow in a safe environment," Moore said. Julia Alexander '08 has initiated a weekly group for students called Debunking Whiteness, which is "dedicated to learning about racism and white privilege."

This semester, Moore intends to start a series of discussions for staff only titled Recognizing Our Raggediness (ROR). ROR will bring together eight to ten people to meet weekly for six-week sessions. "I want to create a safe space for people to talk about their fears and frustrations about diversity. You don't have to be 'PC' to begin dealing with these issues," she said. "It's a time for education, to look at differences rather than ignore them. None of us comes to these topics with glee. But we want to end up being able to understand someone who's radically different, to get rid of the emotional edge that prevents real learning and openness."

Moore noted that there have already been several Intergroup Dialogues on campus throughout the past few years. In the long term she would like to see at least ten such groups develop as well as other venues for "intentional intergroup interaction among faculty, students, and staff." She also has proposed offering a voluntary "transitions orientation" program for dominant-culture students in their first or second year "to assist them in developing cultural competencies around understanding institutional racism, class elitism, and white privilege."

Addressing diversity in the classroom, Moore hopes to develop a "best practices" document for faculty to "demonstrate creative ways in which their specific discipline incorporates diversity into their courses."

Ultimately, Moore would like the College to communicate about diversity using the language of "expectation" rather than "encouragement." She proposes using language such as, "Here at MHC we expect that our students, faculty, and staff will know certain information and behave in ways to create a climate of hospitality and tolerance for all."

Moore describes the College's primary goal as "moving beyond talk to institutionalizing changes that will advantage everyone." Her new mantra is "No conversation without transformation." She sees "a lot of attentiveness to issues of diversity" on campus. She was pleased that noted scholars such as Claude Steele and speakers like Tim Wise have been here at Mount Holyoke. Overall, she believes the College has done significant work in addressing issues of diversity. "There have been a lot of seeds planted over an extended period of time. There are many shoots coming up through the ground, so we want to nurture them and grow into the kind of campus we want to be."

Related Links:

Diversity and Inclusiveness at MHC

Community Report on Diversity and Inclusiveness

New Leader for Religious Life, Diversity Efforts

MHC Celebrates Rev. Moore's Installation