Colleges host straight talk and plan for the future in new normal
Following a sea change in public awareness, academic colleges refine diversity plans and respond with significant conversations
Following the spring uprisings nationally after the death of George Floyd, Lipscomb University’s colleges and departments responded with plans and new groups to encourage diversity on campus and significant conversations among faculty, alumni and students.
Students, faculty and staff to use engineering design to create a more inclusive atmosphere
This summer, the Raymond B. Jones College of Engineering kickstarted an effort to use engineering design concepts within its structure to ensure that all students receive an equitable engineering education, with the ultimate goal of enhancing diversity within the engineering field itself.
Interested faculty, staff and students were invited to join a diversity, equity and inclusion task force that plans to meet bi-weekly throughout the 2020-2021 school year to enact change throughout the college.
Recruitment for the task force was launched with a two-hour session at the college’s opening faculty retreat, where college Dean David Elrod ('77), engineering faculty member Kirsten Dodson (’12), and William Turner, special counsel to the president for diversity and inclusion, presented an overview of diversity and inclusion needs and concerns for enhancing training contexts for engineers.
The process the college will use is borrowed from Dr. Yvette E. Pearson, a well-known professional engineer and engineering educator who advocates applying the same design process engineers use to create a more inclusive environment. She lays out her arguments for the approach in a podcast called Engineering Change.
The engineering design process encompasses a strategic use of brainstorming, research, prototyping, testing and other steps to complete a successful and efficient design, said Dodson, who is working with Elrod to launch the task force.
“As I read the Bible, I see Christ as giving His life to reconcile all people to Himself. Given that sacrifice, it breaks my heart to see so much of the news in recent months focused on what I consider to be the opposite of reconciliation—division, racism and partisanship,” said Elrod. “I value the opportunity to participate in a forum where interested faculty and students can deal with tough issues in a way that makes us stronger by helping us leverage the diversity with which God entrusted us.”
Over the next school year, the task force will move through various strategic steps including:
- Recognizing gaps with respect to equity and inclusion in the engineering college;
- Reflecting on personal experiences and implicit biases as a group for a learned and meaningful team dynamic;
- Creating goals and objectives for envisioning change within the engineering college;
- Examining the culture, policies and strategies of the college to find room for improvement;
- Understanding the problems through research, interviews, and observations with stakeholders of the college;
- Building action plans for implementing change initiatives within the college;
- Prioritizing intentional solutions that will create high levels of positive impact within the college;
- Piloting the initiatives and receiving feedback from stakeholders to iterate upon and finalize initiatives;
- Implementing the finalized initiatives intentionally and gradually in the college; and
- Planning for long-term monitoring and evaluation of the initiatives to determine if goals were met and what other actions should be taken.
“As a female in the engineering field, I can see that there is a clear need for change toward more inclusivity in the industry,” Dodson said. “We have heard from students of different backgrounds that they want change as well. We can’t change the whole field, but we know we can do something here at Lipscomb. Our students are excited about doing something actionable here in our college.”
Six alumni interacted with faculty in panel discussion to help faculty recognize the problem is real and close to home
The College of Business hosted two discussions including alumni for its faculty. The first session featured David Holmes, dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, and five African American alumni from the college:
- Alfonzo Alexander, chief ethics and diversity officer of the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy;
- Nathan Burton, senior project manager at the Tennessee Secretary of State;
- Jasmine Carter-Glass, from the Office of the Chief of Staff, Shelby County Schools;
- Dr. Fredrica Singletary, corporate director of programs at Mercy Multiplied; and
- Lyn Williams, financial advisor at Edward Jones.
“This initial conversation offered a chance for us to pause, pray, listen and reflect as we begin the hard, but necessary, work to address and rectify existing circumstances,” said College of Business Dean Ray Eldridge, who asked faculty to come to the session asking themselves these questions: what is racism, doe it happen here, right in front of me, and has it occurred in my presence, and if so, what was or should be my role.
“The objective was for all to leave the session realizing, racism is a problem; it’s not just a problem elsewhere, but a real problem here, close to home,” said Eldridge.
The session was the initial step in a process that the dean hopes will lead to concrete action steps for the College of Business to address racism moving forward.
After the June event, the college also hosted a series of webinars for alumni to learn and discuss current challenges affecting the business world, including women in the workplace, ethical business questions and COVID-19 as well as racism.
In the first of the virtual webinars, local businessman Dewayne Scott, author of Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone and member of the College of Business Dean’s Board, presented a one-hour presentation addressing diversity topics, such as: what are bias and racism, examples in the workplace and how business students/alumni can make a difference to be agents of change. Scott co-founded and is CEO of SRS Incorporated, named by INC Magazine as the 250th fastest growing business in the U.S.
Eldridge also has plans to hold diversity awareness activities this year with the college’s Student Dean’s Council, so they can also serve with faculty as leaders of change. He also plans to have faculty discussions this fall regarding Ibram X. Kendi’s book How to Be an Antiracist, which was included on their summer reading list, and other readings in a process to begin building a skill set among faculty to mitigate racism when they see it.
National town hall inspires student to host an on-campus discussion for aspiring PAs
Students took the lead this summer in discussing awareness of racism and how to deal with it in the College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences’ physician assistant studies master’s program by holding a town hall gathering.
After three of their number were tapped to attend a national PA student town hall organized by the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) in the wake of the George Floyd nationwide protests, Lipscomb’s PA students were inspired to hold a town hall for the university’s two PA cohorts, made up of 74 students.
Three Lipscomb students, along with about 1,000 others from across the nation, attended the national town hall held by PAEA, a national organization representing all the accredited physician assistant educational programs in the country.
The students found it eye-opening to hear about what other schools were doing in regards to diversity awareness and about students’ experiences in health care nationwide. Participants in the national town hall emphasized the value of simply holding conversations or education to assure the issue is not silenced within health care education.
Some PA programs have cultural competency integrated into their curriculum, the students learned.
After that experience, a small group of PA students began meeting informally to talk about ways Lipscomb’s program could better address diversity issues. The group decided that a town hall discussion for all of Lipscomb’s PA students would be valuable. The event was held on July 6.
“Our PA students were admirably proactive and truly forward-thinking in recognizing the need to explore how issues of race and cultural diversity affect not only their own education and future career, but also their patients and the care they are providing them in their current clinical placements and in their future professional positions,” said Stephen Heffington, director of the PA program who attended the town hall to hear students’ comments. “Throughout the discussion their comments were focused on learning more, embracing others and providing the best quality care.”
Students discussed ways that more diversity issues could be included in the PA programs’ ethics course, with built-in activities to encourage more discussion among students. Because of the PA students’ heavy workload, with both academic course work and clinical placements, participants mused about ways that students could be “given time to care about such issues” by building in thought-provoking activities or official encouragement to attend culturally engaging events or activities within the program.
Students in Lipscomb’s first PA cohort, who have been placed at clinical locations for several months, shared their experiences with racism and racial diversity out in the health care field, noting that sometimes students who witness or experience racism in their clinical placement do not feel that they can speak up about it, because the preceptor will be evaluating them for a grade.
After the town hall, the PA students made four recommendations to program leaders:
- Creating a diversity committee and chair within the PA program’s student government association, which is currently being enacted;
- Adding more multicultural education to the PA ethics and medical communication courses;
- Providing additional language in the student handbook that addresses the proper process to report racism experienced at a clinical site; and
- A long-term goal to promote more ethnic diversity among the faculty and staff.
Committee will celebrate and assess college’s ongoing diversity efforts
In September, the first members were installed of the Lipscomb College of Pharmacy Committee on Diversity and Inclusion. The committee was born out of student and faculty interest this past summer and the College of Pharmacy dean’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and mutual respect within the college.
According to committee chair Kamala Nola, professor, the goal of the committee is to assess the College’s ongoing commitment to inclusion and mutual respect for diversity, internally and externally, in cultural competency, celebration of diversity, justice and advocacy, educational initiatives and implementing change.
“The College of Pharmacy has been celebrating its diversity for a long time, but those efforts have not always been evident to our community at large,” said Nola. “One of the things the committee will do is highlight those efforts in order to assess what we can improve on or enhance. Communication is something we can always do better.”
Over the years the College of Pharmacy has offered pharmacy students opportunities to carry out clinical work in urban, rural and low-income areas locally and through medical mission trips in Tennessee and to disadvantaged nations. Student pharmacists serve varying ethnicities, races and income groups in an effort better prepare them as pharmacists, Nola said.
In addition, student events such as an annual on-campus cultural fair highlight the diversity within the pharmacy student body itself. Faculty and staff training have been held to promote an outward mindset within the college.
“As a College, we have been blessed with faculty, staff and student pharmacists who have been committed to providing compassionate care to all, but especially to those who live in underserved areas in our community and in foreign lands,” said Tom Campbell, dean of the College of Pharmacy. “Likewise, from the very start of this college one of the pillars of our strategic plan was to recruit and enroll minority candidates so that we would continue to grow a diverse student body with many unique skill sets and traits. The College has also made a conscious effort to assure we had representation from minority student pharmacists on various committees and work groups.”
Since 2017, the College of Pharmacy’s minority student population has ranged from 30.88% to 35.62% of the student body.
“While we have had tremendous success in these areas, we needed to do more,” said Campbell. “The College wants to be more intentional in listening, learning, and advocating for change so that every member of our society is valued and treated justly.
“This committee is going to be an important step forward for the college in how we will continue to grow and progress as a leader in the profession of pharmacy. I am excited about the contributions this committee will bring to the college, the university and the profession.”
Six students, three alumni or external stakeholders, three faculty members and a staff member were selected for the committee, Nola said. The Lipscomb student president of the Student National Pharmacists Association will be a liaison to the committee, as that organization focuses on improvement of the health, educational and social environment of minority communities.