Walsh Diversity Council Expands, Launches New 2016-17 Strategy


School News

This fall, the Walsh University Diversity Council has expanded and will launch a more coordinated effort to promote its 2016-17 strategic vision in support of diversity and inclusion issues on campus.

Under the guidance of Walsh alumnus and Chief Diversity Officer Michael Douglas ’88, the Diversity Council is comprised of 20 members who represent the Walsh community including faculty, staff, students and alumni. Reporting directly to Walsh University President Richard Jusseaume, Douglas and the Council provide insight and guidance on maintaining a welcoming, responsive and positive environment for the entire campus. Walsh began the important work of assembling a dedicated Diversity Council several years ago in a proactive measure to foster an open and diverse atmosphere on campus.

"It took about two years for the council to define itself and develop an understanding of some of the unique challenges facing Walsh’s campus," said Douglas, who brings approximately 25 years of experience designing and facilitating diversity, inclusion and multicultural training sessions for schools and corporations. "We felt it was important to first understand and define what diversity means here at Walsh in terms of our own student population, faculty, staff and the greater University community."

The council was originally formed as a result of the internal study conducted by the Walsh Diversity Task Force. To date, the top two recommendations proposed in the study have been accomplished, the first to assemble a campus-wide council to advise and lead discussion, and the second to hire a Diversity Coordinator to lead training sessions for faculty, staff and students in 2014. Based on the overall success of the training sessions and underscoring the importance of diversity and inclusion issues on campus, Douglas was formally appointed Walsh’s Chief Diversity Officer in 2015.

"Four years ago, Walsh completed the institutional study of our campus climate. Three years ago, Michael Douglas joined our staff, and we started the committed process of educating faculty, staff and all employees. Last year, we concentrated on the education and training of our students," said President Jusseaume. "This year, we have doubled the size of our Diversity Council and created a detailed plan to accomplish the tremendous amount of work still to be done. It’s not the easiest conversation to have, but all of these accomplishments stand as a testament to the fact that we are committed to the process and will continue the important work of training our community on the issue of diversity and inclusion. And we will continue moving in the right direction."

Council Grows to Support Collaboration Across Campus

The nine new members of the council represent the new strategic plan that Douglas has created to address critical areas in which Walsh will need to grow.

"All of these important sectors of our population-- international students, multicultural, government compliance -- are now working together and supporting each other under one umbrella with the Diversity Council," said Douglas. "With a strategic vision in place, we are better prepared to take care of the diversity and inclusion needs of the University, while still allowing us to remain flexible to address any crisis that may occur locally or nationally with the potential to impact our students at Walsh."

Meeting once a month, the council has spent a considerable amount of time on their understanding of intercultural competence and cultural diversity sensitivity. The group also participates in an intensive two-day retreat to develop ideas and chart a course for the year while also learning how to work with each other.

"Here’s our motto - if we can’t do it on the council, we have to stop expecting people to be able to do it at Walsh. We need to be the role models of the actual behavior that we would like to see take place on campus," said Douglas. "We spend 30 minutes each meeting on training and learning how to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. That’s a very important aspect of our work because all of these topics are uncomfortable to talk about, but are also vital to the success of our initiatives. And while we may operate from an agenda, it is also subject to change with what is going on in the day to day."

Douglas added: "This is a very fluid process."

A New Guiding Vision: Strategic Plan Provides Focus

The new strategic plan outlines several areas to address on campus. Continuing to work proactively rather than reactively, the new plan was created based on a simple tool -- listening. 

"In our first two years, we operated from an agenda place that was developed as we went along. This is a major shift. I’ve spent the summer working with President Jusseaume to develop a new vision for the Diversity Council," said Douglas. "Listening is a big component of our day to day. We want to be proactive about addressing concerns on campus, because we want to be that group that the Walsh community turns to as a resource."

The strategic plan tackles issues such as recognition, diversity compliance, faith, council development, student development, domestic diversity, international diversity, international students and other marginalized student populations on campus.

Diversity Compliance: The council will addressgovernment compliance such as Title VI and Title IX, and work to educate the Walsh community on those issues that must be addressed from a government mandate, and not only from a social justice standpoint.

Faith: With Walsh clearly defined as a faith-based institution, the council will continue to explore biblical guidance that talks about why these initiatives are important to Walsh as a Catholic University.

Student Development: Often functioning on the front line of student issues, Walsh’s residence life staff is an important component of Walsh’s on-campus employees. The success of last year’s residence life training has proven to be invaluable and will continue this year. Residence assistants deal with Walsh’s student population in a different capacity with the ability to address concerns and issues first-hand.

"Our training will help to set them up for success by giving them the tools they need to be proactive and preventative," said Douglas. "They are our eyes and ears to what issues we will need to address and provide an important resource in our problem solving process."

Domestic Diversity: The council will explore ways to break down barriers and help faculty, staff and students better relate to one another when interacting with individuals who may not be from the same background, socio-economically, racially or ethnically. Domestic diversity encompasses Walsh’s African-American, Hispanic and other minority groups on campus who are from the United States. 

International Students: With a growing international student population on campus, the council will help to articulate the nuances and day-to-day challenges that students from other countries face on campus.

"We want to be sensitive to everyone and meet them where they are to help our students smoothly transition into Walsh’s campus culture and help them to be successful," said Douglas. "Whether it’s a language barrier or social issue that becomes a bit of a challenge, we need to be comfortable and provide special attention to whatever their particular needs may be."  

Leading in the Right Direction

While a strategic plan helps to guide the council, the group must remain flexible to deal with new issues as they evolve. The council convened in August to discuss the events of the summer such as the tragedies in Baton Rouge, Dallas and Orlando, and how students might be emotionally processing each national crisis as they return to campus for fall classes. Training will also be tailored to prepare Walsh resident assistants to properly and proactively respond to students that may have been affected by these emotional and possibly divisive national emergencies.

This year will also see popular campus events such as those hosted by the Black Student Scholars or the World Student Organization under one umbrella and fully supported by the Diversity Council. This will allow the council members to better measure the impact of each event and help to build awareness on campus in a much more directed way.

"Last year we felt like we had a lot of pieces and parts of a great orchestra. We just weren’t playing together," said Douglas. "But now, with our new team approach, we are progressing to a higher level of sophistication. Our President has really done a great job supporting this effort so that now we are understanding the common threads that exist across campus to support each other. Instead of separate bands, we are all forming one orchestra, with the President as our conductor."