Faculty diversity-training program launching next fall

James Kilborn

Campus diversity remains a priority for Grand Valley State University going forward, and striving to improve working conditions for minorities and people of color is the goal of a new program being launched next fall. Cultivate, a program geared toward GVSU faculty, will work to educate staff on social justice issues and improve awareness of diversity both on and off campus. 

Relando Thompkins-Jones, social justice educator and coordinator with GVSU, is working to promote the program and sees it as an opportunity to question systems that perpetuate social injustice, identify sources of inequality and use this information to improve leadership on campus. 

“Cultivate is an acknowledgment that discourse about leadership that does not implicate the systems that contribute to inequity offers an incomplete contextual picture of the forces that impact the lives and outcomes of the people we serve,” Thompkins-Jones said via email. “We want to engage participants in thinking critically about their own identities and experiences with bias … and how those experiences impact the decisions they make and their understanding of systems of inequity that affect themselves, the members of their teams and the students we all serve.”

Scott Ayotte, equity officer and director of Affirmative Action/Equal Employment Opportunity on campus, sees programs like Cultivate as increasingly important in a rapidly globalizing world. 

“The goal of Cultivate is to equip leaders and future leaders with the tools, knowledge and experiences necessary to lead for equity,” Ayotte said via email. “As the demographics of higher education and U.S. workforce continue to evolve and become more global, it is imperative for our leaders to do so as well. 

“Cultivate is a model for leadership development with social equity at the core. For example, taking leadership competencies such as ‘team building’ or ‘change management,’ Cultivate will address issues such as ‘how to build inclusively diverse teams’ and ‘leading practices for managing change across cultures.'”

Cultivate is meant to educate GVSU faculty on improving equity on campus and will work to promote individual development through reflection of cultural background and values. The program will feature a dynamic curriculum constructed with the help of the GVSU Division of Inclusion and Equity, Human Resources and the Pew Faculty Teaching and Learning Center. Cultivate will also work to improve relationships between faculty members by recognizing each individual’s unique perspectives and the value their perspectives have in improving campus diversity. 

“Although Cultivate is in its infancy, our learning outcomes include gaining knowledge and understanding of social justice foundational theories and models as applied to leadership in higher education, ways to better understand how to foster an employee’s growth and development by recognizing their social and cultural context, among others,” Thompkins-Jones said. 

“We will regularly evaluate participant feedback to make improvements for future cohorts. As the program continues, with additional cohorts, we will also track the impact in a longitudinal way, identifying successes and needs for changing directions.”

As Thompkins-Jones said, the program allows for introspection on what areas of GVSU can be affected.

“Participants will be asked to identify a specific program, policy, practice or initiative that might be impacted by an area of focus, including equity and structural diversity, inclusion and campus climate, and learning and development, and will work to apply what they are learning directly to advancing an area of inclusion and equity within their unit,” he added. “Tracking those developments over time will give us a clearer picture of the program’s impact.”

GVSU’s Division of Inclusion and Equity works to create a campus where people of all viewpoints and backgrounds are welcome, and Cultivate’s role in improving diversity education and leadership amongst faculty is an important goal for the department. Ayotte sees the role of the department as crucial in providing for the needs of an increasingly diverse campus community. 

“GVSU and the Division of Inclusion and Equity is committed to advancing social justice; equity; and inclusion for students, faculty, staff and the greater communities we serve,” Ayotte said. “The definition of inclusion and equity evolves with the emerging needs as a result of intrinsic cultural facets and extrinsic changes in our society. Cultivate was created in response to the needs articulated and opportunities identified from our campus community.”

Although Cultivate is focused on improving faculty leadership development, Thompkins-Jones encourages students to share ideas and thoughts on potential topics for the program. 

“Although the Cultivate pilot program will be utilized by faculty and staff, students are ultimately centered in the work, as their interactions with faculty and staff can play a role in how they experience the university more broadly,” Thompkins-Jones said.

Any GVSU student interested in sharing ideas or thoughts on topics or areas they believe educators could benefit from exploring can contact Thompkins-Jones at [email protected].

GVSU faculty interested in the program are asked to submit an application prior to Monday, April 30. Classes for the program begin Sept. 7 and will be held once a month on Friday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.