“To serve the present age, our calling to fulfill” - Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Age of COVID-19
Campus life and activities that UNT’s faculty, staff, and students enjoyed have been put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though we've been forced to put a halt to on-campus gatherings and events, ending many of the things that help unite the UNT community, the Division of Institutional Equity & Diversity has been working hard to foster community spirit during this time of crisis. The Division reimagined the delivery of its programs and services in the virtual environment. We rapidly converted our operations through telecommuting and thoughtfully engaged in efforts to create and sustain high quality equitable and inclusive environments online.
Thanks to Communications Strategist, James Jackson, the Division has increased its use of social media to foster the school spirit that is so integral to the UNT experience. The university has worked to use social media and its COVID-19 updates to make sure the campus community stays informed on all university-related news. Each week there is a diversity and inclusion resource featured in the UNT COVID-19 updates.
UNT faculty, staff, and students have engaged with us to maintain momentum created in late 2019 to expand diversity learning opportunities for the campus community. Collaboration with the UNT System’s Organizational Development & Engagement (ODE) unit resulted in increased diversity and inclusion training offerings for employees at UNT (Denton) and at other system institutions as well. The division’s Diversity & Inclusion staff, led by Shani Barrax Moore, worked with faculty to present training as part of course instruction. Making this happen with Zoom meetings and breakout rooms would not have been contemplated just five years ago!
Units within the Division of Institutional Equity & Diversity have turned to social media and other platforms to engage the campus community. For example, the Multicultural Center and the Pride Alliance have created “hangouts” to continue the centers’ engagement with students. These virtual spaces are intended to support students and promote well-being. Planning is underway to ensure key student-focused activities, such as the Black Student Experience and F.L.Y. Peer Ambassador Program, will occur during the fall 2020 semester. The Multicultural Center is also busy recruiting the first cohort of students to participate in Latin Dreams, a new recruitment and retention program for men and masculine identities centered around a living-learning community in Crumley residence hall.
Michael Luecke and Cameron Combs, the new Student Government president and vice president respectively, engaged in a Zoom meeting with me to share their SOAR platform which contained several diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. They also announced a new Student Government position—Director of Diversity—that will work with the division on DEI issues impacting UNT’s students.
The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted our commonalities as well as the disparate impact that the novel coronavirus has on people based on factors such as race, age, national origin, sexual orientation, religion, and socioeconomic status. The Division’s Equal Opportunity unit has moved its investigative activities to the virtual realm and has continued to respond to concerns of discrimination and harassment brought forward by students, faculty, and staff. As the University continues its learning and business operations in virtual spaces, all members of the community are encouraged to keep equity and inclusion at the forefront of their interactions.
As vice president, I appreciate being at the table when key decisions are being made that impact the future of the institution. It is heartening to note that issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion are still important considerations for UNT’s leaders in making the difficult decisions that will impact us all in the days ahead.
While we’ve been forced to adapt to a new reality, our division is up to the challenge as we continue to serve in this present age of COVID-19. We look forward to working with you as we continue fostering inclusive excellence at UNT.
Joanne G. Woodard
Institutional Equity & Diversity