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ETSU's diversity, equity and inclusion task force to help shape university moving forward

Tony Casey • Feb 27, 2017 at 5:09 PM

A task force commissioned by East Tennessee State University President Brian Noland will look at diversity, equity and inclusion, especially as it pertains to Gov. Bill Haslam’s Drive to 55 initiative and the changing face of higher education in Tennessee.

This task force is not mandated by the state, but was requested by Noland as a tool to shape policy at ETSU.

“Our diversity task force was created during the fall 2016 semester and was charged with reviewing institutional efforts that support and promote diversity and inclusion,” the university president said in a statement to the Johnson City Press. “This group, which is comprised of students, staff and faculty, will develop recommendations to further strengthen our work.”

Dr. Chris Dula, associate professor of psychology, and Mary Jordan, special assistant to the president for equity and diversity, as well as affirmative action director, co-chair the 20-person collective.

Student Government Association President Pooja Shah and Vice President Nathan Farnor are among the student representatives on the task force.

“The DEI task force was charged with reviewing recruitment and retention practices, curriculum, climate and community outreach efforts in order to develop a comprehensive plan to increase diversity, equity and inclusion at ETSU,” Jordan said Monday.

The group has only met a few times this academic school year, but Dr. Lorianne Mitchell, from ETSU’s College of Business and Technology, said the talks have been extremely productive, and she’s not surprised how many diverse topics are being discussed.

The task force will engage dialogue on campus regarding diversity, equity and inclusion, look at the programs and initiatives offered and define what the terms “diversity,” “inclusion” and “equity” mean, as they relate to the university and develop goals, benchmarks and assessments that will be used to track progress.

With all the work, Mitchell said the task force runs out of time because they have so much to discuss. They avoid politics altogether, she said, but they do look at ETSU as a venue for new thoughts.

“The university should be at the forefront of making change,” she said. “It’s a think tank and thought center. This is a safe place to be different and say things that go against the grain.”

On Wednesday, Mitchell will give a “Women on Wednesdays” talk, part of a series put on by the Women’s Studies program. Her talk will center around diversity and inclusion on campus.

ETSU’s campus frequently has other diversity-related events. Coming up, there will be an LGBTQ and Allies Panel held in conjunction with the “Tragic Disclosure” Dennis Greenwell exhibit at ETSU’s Slocumb Galleries.

Greenwell will be joined by the Rev. Dr. Brian Wyatt, of the First Presbyterian Church, John Baker, director of the Pride Community Center of the Tri-Cities, Beth Sluder of PFLAG Tricities, Beth Evelyn of ETSU’s Counseling Center, Allison Heming and Emma Frederick, adviser and student from H.E.R.O.E.S.

Separately, there will be many “privilege walks” through March and April, in which organizers aim to discuss the complicated intersections of privileges and marginalization in non-confrontational and reflective ways.

Email Tony Casey at tcasey@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow Tony Casey on Twitter @TonyCaseyJCP. Like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tonycaseyjournalist.

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