We all have a role to play.
That’s what Dr. Amber R. Smith, vice president and chief inclusion & equity officer at the University of Indianapolis, wants the community to know right now.
“Everyone is at a different level in their cultural fluency, and everyone is unique,” Smith said. “Sometimes people struggle with inaction because they’re trying to be or do something that isn’t aligned with who they are. It’s important to be authentically who you are, and getting involved should still reflect who you are. Each of our roles is different and should be tailored to what we bring to the table.”
Start where you are and grow to who you want to become.Dr. Amber R. Smith
This year brings into stark focus the ongoing struggle for civil rights, racial equity, social justice, and inclusion spanning hundreds of years, further amplifying the need to intentionally confront structural racism as individuals and as a collective.
In June, Smith hosted a virtual town hall discussion that explored the experiences of Black Americans. The insights shared by faculty and staff inspired a series of workshops on women of color in the academy, white allyship, faith and justice, and healing space, as well as introductory reading and listening resources.
“It starts with a conversation, but we can’t end there. We must have accountability built into these plans,” Smith said.
The President’s Cabinet and Provost’s Council stand united in their commitment to celebrating diversity and breaking down barriers to success for Black students, staff, and faculty. Voices from the UIndy community recently contributed to a three-year strategic vision related to inclusive excellence. The focus areas, which align with the Vision 2030 plan, are Climate, Access & Equity, Diversity in the Curriculum & Co-Curriculum, Intercultural Engagement, Intercultural Learning & Development, and Policies and Processes.
Based on a person’s positional influence within the UIndy community, they might be a “Barrier Breaker,” a “Creative Connector” or a “Vocal Experiencer.” Each category aligns with tangible action items and educational opportunities.
“When people begin to see themselves as active agents of change and gain a stronger knowledge of their role, progress can be achieved organizationally and also personally,” said Smith. “This is a crisis for humanity. We are all equals in this work, and we all have a role to play.”
Dr. Terrence Harewood, associate professor of multicultural education, says he feels called to help people make sense of the complexities of cultural differences and change. As the faculty sponsor for Umoja Scholars, a new living-learning community designed for first-year students who identify as Black, African-American, or within the African diaspora, Harewood will lead activities in the Indianapolis community, such as visiting the Madam C. J. Walker Building, Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial Park, and Crispus Attucks High School.
“My goal is to support Umoja Scholars in successfully navigating their transition to and through college with a focus on healthy racial identity development,” he said. “I want to help students recognize and utilize the assets they bring with them from their families and communities to foster productive social and academic outcomes.”
Institutional objectives also include creating a dedicated process to increase the representation of Black professionals on campus, establishing summer bridge experiences for students of color to transition to college successfully, and creating greater transparency through data related to retention rates and academic achievement for our Black students, among others.
This Fall, the newly formed Inclusive Excellence Strategic Leadership Coalition, made up of representatives from every area of campus, will be focused on “doing what we said we were going to do,” said Smith. “We’ve outlined a vision; now we have to bring it to life.”
I believe our country is ripe for change and that with the support of well-meaning individuals, that change will come.Dr. Terrence Harewood
Members of the Coalition will lead conversations about inclusion in their areas, with a topic of focus every month. The Office of Inclusion & Equity will host experiential education opportunities for faculty, staff, and students, such as book clubs, a speaker series, an expression wall, and a film series. Virtual development opportunities, like #BelongSpace, will continue to allow members of the UIndy community to engage in regular discussions about inclusion in a non-threatening way.
“These raw emotions have been brewing for a while now and to say that America has reached a tipping point might be an understatement,” said Harewood.
Learn more uindy.edu/inclusion