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Town hall hosted on diversity initiative

On Sept. 30, President of the University of New Hampshire (UNH) James Dean, hosted his third town hall this semester regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) on campus. The town hall was joined by Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Nadine Petty and Provost and Chief Academic Officer Dr. Wayne Jones. The event was moderated by Student Body President Nicholas Fitzgerald and law student Michael Fazzi. 

While the first two town halls regarding this matter were focused more on faculty and staff identifying the right issues, the third town hall was designated for students. President Dean said that the university has identified initiatives in seven different areas from the previous town halls, but they were waiting for the students’ feedback before finalizing any initiatives.   

The town hall started with Petty laying out the initiatives in seven different areas: to create a more diverse faculty and staff; to create a more diverse student body; an inclusive and welcoming environment for all, especially people of color; to have all students prepared to function effectively in diverse settings, at UNH and beyond; to conduct research including issues of racism, diversity and inclusion; leadership teams proactively addressing diversity and inclusion; and structures to facilitate the above actions. 

In terms of the DEI within the faculty and staff, Petty said the numbers were low, but comparing 2004 and present, there has been an increase in the percentage of faculty of color in general. She added, “One of the ways that I’m going to do that is to create an online portal where we can put all kinds of best practices, we can actually post potentially jobs that are available for anyone who is looking for a diverse applicant pool.” 

Similarly, the number of undergraduate and graduate students of color at UNH is very low, according to Petty. She said that the university is currently under-enrolled but is working on making UNH more attractive to not only high school students, but also international students. One of the ways that UNH is trying to do that is by developing a survey for high schools around UNH and asking juniors and seniors particularly on their perspective towards UNH. “We really can’t make the changes that we need to make until we figure out from the lens of incoming high school students,” she added.  

As for graduate students, Petty said that the president and vice president are currently working to start a peer-to-peer mentoring program for underrepresented students at UNH. 

One of the biggest goals for UNH this semester is about building a welcoming environment for all students. UNH currently offers diversity training to work in that area but is working to enhance the program. “There were gaps,” said Petty. “There are opportunities to do better and to offer more training that is accessible and more training available and also a wider array of training.” 

On the topic of safety, UNH has also introduced an alternative of ReportIt which would be called Ethics Point. The new platform will launch sometime in November for students to voice their concerns. One of the biggest additional advantage to this platform compared to ReportIt is that it allows back and forth communication for students to know the status of a report. Additionally, students can upload documents or photos to support the claims that they are filing. 

“Students can also contact anyone from the offices of affirmative action and equity or from community standards, any office that might be handling the actual complaint where the actual investigation to supply additional information, to ask questions and likewise, staff can talk to students through the platform for the same purpose,” added Petty.  

In the meantime, Petty is working closely with Vice Provost for Student Life Kenneth Holmes to make sure that any students that report bias or racist incidents will have the university’s 100% support from start to finish. Aside from that, there has also been a proposal to hire additional staff depending on the university’s budget to help with the advocacy piece for students who are filing for incidences of bias and racism. 

UNH is also committed to engaging students in scholarship, research, and extracurricular activities. To prepare all students with the knowledge, skills, and experience for the diverse world, Jones said, “Students get to work closely with postdoctoral researchers, international scientist, and faculty, but we need to make sure that environment is inclusive so that when students go elsewhere they feel comfortable in a diverse environment and that they know how to be in a diverse community.”  

Being among the top research institutions in the country, UNH has decided to incorporate the topic of DEI as part of their research. According to Dean, the university is working on a number of ways that the university could increase research in that area such as internal funding for faculty, developing and hosting workshops, and working with the state to provide programs and leadership for issues regarding DEI.  

As far as leadership teams, UNH currently has a few numbers of teams in the community. “What we are committed to as part of these initiatives is that diversity will be on the agenda of every one of those teams on a regular basis, at least monthly and probably more often than that,” said Dean. 

These teams will work on addressing the challenges, continuing to listen and learn from one another, and creating performance metrics.  

Dean said that this effort will show students that the issue of DEI is not something that the university will only talk about during town halls but also an issue that the university will continue to work on. Additionally, he said he will personally insist that DEI be on the performance appraisal documents for all of the senior leaders in the university to include their contribution towards DEI in their evaluation. Dean hopes that this “sea change” will help the university’s initiative to increase DEI on campus. 

To facilitate all of the actions above, UNH will put together an advisory committee made solely of students. This committee of students will help to keep UNH accountable, honest, and provide them with information with experiences from the student’s perspective. 

UNH has already begun the restructuring of the diversity committee, councils and commissions that are under the Office of Community, Equity and Diversity to ensure more efficiency, less confusion, and less discussion and more action when it comes to DEI initiatives.  

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