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UNH introduces diversity and inclusivity initiative

UNH introduces diversity and inclusivity initiative

President James W. Dean Jr. of the University of New Hampshire (UNH) announced the draft of the soon-to-be diversity, equity and inclusivity initiatives to promote a positive culture of inclusivity on campus. 

The initiatives contain seven distinct points that President Dean aims to fulfill for the UNH community. They range from working to increase enrollment of students of color to incorporating diversity education into the Discovery Program. In doing so, Dean aims to hire more instructors of color, as well as have current faculty and staff proactively address incidents of bias and discrimination.  

Though currently a draft, the document has been a work in progress for quite some time. UNH’s Chief Diversity Officer, Dr. Nadine Petty, has worked on the President’s Leadership Council (PLC) and assisted in the creation of the initiatives.  

“The President’s Leadership Council spent the summer engaged in personal diversity and inclusion education in preparation for addressing the stated concerns of our UNH community. The President’s Leadership Council (PLC) read diversity-related books and past UNH reports which included previous lists of students’ demands. Members of the PLC spoke to Black students, faculty, and staff to gather necessary information and perspectives and brought the knowledge and insights that were gained to an all-day retreat. The initiatives were first developed at the retreat.” 

According to the UNH Campus Climate Survey, over 10% of students surveyed experienced incidents of harassment or exclusion due to their race. As a result, the PLC and Dr. Petty worked alongside student organizations as well, fielding comments from the Black Student Union (BSU) and Diversity Support Coalition (DSC).  

“We solicited a broad invitation for anyone who wanted to speak with us. DSC members embraced that opportunity and it is my understanding that the student demands listed in the appendix of the President’s Task Force on Campus Climate were created by BSU members. Collectively, this helped inform the strategic diversity initiatives.” 

However, despite fielding a broad spectrum of perspectives from students, the PLC did not include The Beauregard Center (formerly the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs) in the initial drafting process. Speaking with Cache Owens-Velasquez, the new director of the Beauregard Center, outlined the office’s exclusion from preliminary planning.  

“They have not included our office in the preliminary plans. I hope we can be part of the conversation.”  

Despite their exclusion from preliminary planning, Owens-Velasquez remains optimistic in the effectiveness of Dean’s initiatives.  

“I think the answer will begin to reveal itself as time goes on because these things look really great on paper.”  

Her counterpart, Lu Butterfield-Ferrel, shares Owens-Velasquez’s optimism. 

“I think in higher-ed there can be a cyclical issue of implementing things and positions change or something happens. It can be a variety of reasons. But having a concrete plan and accountability measures on how you want to implement things is what I’m hoping to see.” 

A common thread between The Beauregard Center and the PLC is their desire to shape the Discovery Program in order to promote inclusivity among different identities, especially at a point where UNH recently experienced a bias incident against the LGBTQIA community in Congreve Hall, as reported on by The New Hampshire.  

In regards to expanding the Discovery Program, Butterfield-Ferrel believes that having a common platform could be much more effective. 

“It feels exciting to me if we’re able to do a discovery class that first-year students can take then we are able to have a similar platform that most first-year students can move on from, and if done early, it would leave more time to dive deeper and begin unpacking all of the stuff.”  

Along with The Beauregard Center, Student Body President Nicholas Fitzgerald hopes to see an expanded Discovery Program within his term. 

“I am in full support for this initiative. I think it’s something the university really needs going forward. There are several areas I am very adamant in pushing forward. One of the big things I am pushing for under his fourth point, he talks about adding Diversity, Equity and Inclusion into the Discovery Program. Students want to see a DEI requirement in the program somewhere. This could be something passed this semester.” 

To alleviate certain worries students may have about increasing workloads under an expanded Discovery Program, Fitzgerald offered students reassurance.  

“There are things underway but I cannot say until they are public. They are not adding more workload, they aren’t making the discovery programs more tiresome.” 

Regardless, though the initiatives remain a draft, Fitzgerald is confident that the initiatives will not leave behind members of other marginalized groups, such as the LGBTQIA community. 

“It’s something that goes under the radar a lot. I will make sure that will be heard. Working alongside organizations such as TransUNH is something I plan to do so their concerns are heard.”  

Despite these measures, not much is known about how they may be implemented. Fitzgerald is confident in his administration’s ability in seeking greater transparency from the UNH administration. 

“Transparency is the number one issue I hear from students and what I keep pushing for.” 

The Black Student Union (BSU) and Diversity Support Coalition (DSC) did not respond for comment.  

Photo courtesy of the University of New Hampshire.

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