The Promise of Meredith. The Power of Change.
How The Meredith Community Has Banded Together in the Fight Against Racism
By Cailyn Whitman, ’18
The Promise of Meredith. The Power of Change.
How The Meredith Community Has Banded Together in the Fight Against Racism
By Cailyn Whitman, '18
In June 2020, President Jo Allen announced the launch of the College-wide Initiative on Anti-Racism. With three key action steps, this initiative lays the groundwork for what Allen calls a “top-down and bottom-up” commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at Meredith.
“We see [the initiative] as a top-down, bottom-up, around-the-clock, around-the-campus commitment,” Allen said when asked about the College’s anti-racism efforts during a recent podcast interview.
As both an alumna and leader of the Executive Leadership Team (ELT), Allen believes the approach the College is taking is representative of the Meredith community.
“This is a group that – with great passion – believes in the mission and the promise of this institution. And with great passion, believes in the power of change,” she said.
While Meredith has made progress in the early stages of the initiative, these efforts are long-term and ongoing to ensure the College stays strong into the future.
Meredith’s Comprehensive Approach
For change to truly happen at Meredith and within higher education in general, administrators have found that community members such as students, alumnae/i, and employees need to feel empowered as individuals and grassroots organizers, but they also need the commitment and the resources from upper-level administrators to enact change.
“People are looking for administrative leadership, but they don’t want to just be told how to become more inclusive,” said Allen. “They want the grassroots piece, but they need the resources and the commitment [of the College] to make that happen.”
The goal of the Board of Trustees and administrators, including ELT, is to act as cooperative and supportive allies of the College and its community while equipping employees and students with the resources and support to pursue their own efforts in research, discourse, and suggesting steps for action.
Experts in higher education have found this collaborative approach to be the most effective way to change organizational structure within institutions. The approach relies on administration and Trustees to determine larger goals that guide the implementation of action steps among employees (such as faculty, staff, and students).
Board of Trustees Chair Yvette Brown, ’90, emphasized the Board’s dedication to the initiative’s purpose. “The Board is committed to ensuring that the College is a welcoming and inclusive place for all who come,” she said.
The collaborative approach to the initiative allows individual community members to have a voice in Meredith’s goals. “We have been purposeful in including diverse voices to examine the history of the College,” Brown said. “By examining our history, vision, and mission – we are addressing the needs of our community as a whole.”
The Strategic Plan for the Future of Meredith College
Meredith’s strategic plan builds on the strengths of the College and sets the stage for a strong and vibrant future. In the next iteration of the rolling plan, to be developed this academic year, each of the pillars will contain a multi-year DEI goal.
The six pillars of Meredith’s strategic plan:
Ensure educational excellence through curricular and co-curricular pathways that lead to student success
Cultivate optimal enrollment of highly-qualified students
Provide the facilities and technology needed to support the College’s projected growth
Strengthen the College’s long-term financial stability
Enhance the visibility and profile of Meredith College
Enrich quality of life for Meredith faculty, staff, and students
DEI in Meredith’s Next Strategic Plan
Focusing on six pillars, the plan is highly inclusive and transparent, with opportunities for feedback from the entire Meredith community, including faculty, staff, students, trustees, alumnae/i, and community partners.
In the next iteration of the plan, each of the six pillars will contain a multi-year DEI goal. As with all goals that are outlined in the strategic plan, these goals will be consistently assessed and measured to ensure they have enough funding and support to be achieved, and that progress is being made.
One way administrators will help accomplish the goals outlined in the strategic plan is by setting specific DEI goals that they will frequently discuss with their teams. Many employees have already been involved in this sort of work, but having the actions outlined in the strategic plan allows for increased financial and administrative support.
College-wide DEI Efforts Underway
Meredith is also in the process of hiring a permanent DEI professional. An exploratory committee, co-led by faculty, staff, and a diverse set of campus leaders, considered data gathered in the Campus Climate Survey and focus groups as well as descriptions of DEI positions to make informed recommendations for the hiring process.
Candice Webb served on the DEI Exploratory Committee. A Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach, Webb’s expertise from serving as director of StrongPoints® was beneficial in leading focus group discussions, including sessions with students from the Muslim Student Association and the Black Student Union.
“During these discussions, students shared which qualifications and characteristics they think are most important in a DEI professional, as well as the ways that a DEI professional could enhance the student experience at Meredith,” said Webb.
Now that a formal position statement for the DEI professional has been approved by ELT and campus human resources experts, the College is using Academic Search, a nationally known, top-rated higher education search firm, to identify candidates.
With the administrative support from ELT and the Board of Trustees, various offices and departments of the College have also been instrumental in supporting the College’s anti-racism initiative.
Some of these changes will have an impact on students before they even officially enroll.
Specifically, the Office of Admissions has reviewed and modified policies to ensure equity in the application process, beginning with test score submissions. Initially adopted to lighten the burden of students applying during the COVID-19 pandemic, the test-optional admissions policy has now been made permanent.
“Research has shown that SAT and ACT scores are often tied to a test-taker’s socio-economic environment,” said Director of Admissions Shery Boyles. “It’s often the case that students from lower socio-economic environments, under-funded schools, rural environments, and students who are first-generation college students score lower than test-takers from more wealthy, urban, second, or third-generation college student environments.”
Relying on this research and other data that show grade point average is a stronger predictor of college success, adopting a test-optional policy allows the College to be more inclusive in the application process and take into consideration other important aspects of a prospective student’s application. “Applicants are not advantaged or disadvantaged for admission by their decision to submit or not submit an SAT or ACT score,” said Boyles.
The Office of Admissions is also investigating a name change for the student tour guide organization. After studying the history and current impact of the group’s name, tour guides reflected that White Iris Circle, a name inspired by the College’s flower, may sound exclusionary to students of color. The tour guides will propose a new name for the group this fall to be considered by the student senate.
“Our goal is a tour guide organization in which all students feel welcome to participate – beginning (but not ending) with the name of the organization,” said Boyles.
The Office of Student Leadership and Service Partners with SGA to Create Change
Supported by staff from the Office of Student Leadership and Service, student leaders have followed the College’s lead and taken steps to implement their own diversity statement and DEI executive board position within SGA. Former SGA President Naomi Hill, ’21, and current President Sarah Powell, ’22, as well as Tyler Pharr, ’21, and Korey Barringer, ’21, former president and vice-president of the Black Student Union, were involved in developing the statement and creating the role for the new DEI chair.
“While this position will not solve the racism and other forms of discrimination that have caused members of this community to be hurt, we hope that it will amplify the needs and concerns of this campus in order to work towards change for all students,” said Hill.
The diversity statement and implementation of the DEI executive board chair have helped SGA leaders lay the groundwork for addressing racism and inequality within campus traditions, selection and opportunities for student leaders, and ways that students voice their concerns on campus.
The Office of Student Leadership and Service (SLS) has partnered with student leaders to tackle these issues through DEI training, workshops, and more. For example, the Orientation Crew, Student Advisers, and Resident Assistants have participated in workshops focused on the topics of inclusivity, leadership, and biases. Cornhuskin’ co-chairs have also participated in training sessions that focused on cultural appropriation and disabilities.
“We expect to require training for co-chairs moving forward,” said Director of Student Leadership and Service Cheryl Jenkins. “We also added workshops related to DEI topics to our fall officer training and will continue to focus on these areas every year.”
Jenkins said another way SLS is helping students with DEI efforts is by gathering feedback from the student body regarding all of the Meredith College traditions. “We will analyze their purposes, the values/meaning that we want each tradition to hold in students’ lives, examine the historical context, look at language, review any potential barriers for inclusiveness, and find relevance for today’s students,” she said.
The SGA and SLS have also reviewed the way that students voice concerns about clubs and organizations on campus. The senate and SGA executive board recommended the new Student Organizations Concerns Committee, which is in the final stages of being approved in the SGA constitution. Additionally, an easily-accessible online form was created for students to share their concerns about student organizations, including instances of racism, bias, or discrimination.
“Senate members are also looking at asking each student organization to add an inclusivity statement to its constitution,” Jenkins shared. “Our goal is to raise awareness and accessibility of student government processes and reflect the needs of current Meredith students.”
Another way that students are addressing anti-racism is through leadership/membership representation. “We want to continue to encourage students to have broader representation in leadership and membership within their organizations and ask themselves, who is at the table?” said Jenkins.
In particular, staff members from SLS have been talking to current student leaders about how to consider diversity when selecting officers and to create spaces for broader perspectives. Campus leaders are also reviewing election processes to see how they can be improved to get even more students to consider running for elected positions.
Other Changes to the Process of Defining and Reporting Incidents of Racism, Bias, and Intolerance on Campus
In addition to updating the way students share concerns about their experiences with specific clubs and organizations on campus, modifications have also been made to the processes for defining and reporting racist experiences on campus in general – including with faculty and staff, in classrooms, administrative offices, residence halls, and more.
These changes were made possible by a joint effort between the Dean of Students staff and a student task force in the 2020-21 academic year. Together, Dean Ann Gleason, Assistant Dean Tomecca Sloane, and the student task force reviewed the Honor Code and came up with recommendations for modifying the definitions and consequences of harassment, discrimination, bias incidents, and acts of intolerance.
Effective as of 2021-22, these revisions and instructions for reporting are outlined in the student handbook and on the Dean of Students webpage.
Alumnae/i Support and Involvement
The work being done at Meredith comes full circle through alumnae/i who have contributed greatly to DEI efforts. Many alumnae/i remain active members of the Meredith community through the Office of Alumnae Relations, the Black Alumnae Collective, and more; and alumnae/i also serve as faculty, staff, and trustees.
These are just some of the tangible ways that the College-wide Initiative on Anti-Racism manifests as a collective effort of the Meredith community. Because so many members within the community have not just one, but often multiple ties to the College, the dedication to this work is long-term, multi-layered, ever-growing, and passionately supported.
Meredith College is committed to fostering an inclusive and pluralistic campus environment where diverse identities are safe and welcomed into our learning and working community. The College is committed to actively addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in all departments and administrative processes. The College admits undergraduate women students of any age, race, creed, sexual orientation, national and ethnic origin.
In alignment with our core values and our mission as a women’s college, the College respects race, ethnicity, culture, sex, gender identity, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, ability, age, national origin, immigration status, veteran status, political affiliation, religion, and spiritual identity that enrich and ennoble our campus conversations, relationships, classrooms, extracurricular programs, and work environments. Our community appreciates that identity is intersectional and that diversity extends beyond this incomplete list of categories.
The College strives to cultivate a climate of respect and dialogue around these aspects of identity. Meredith adheres to a comprehensive non-discrimination policy that recognizes differences and acknowledges that these differences are valued assets that enrich our community.