Date March 9, 2017
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In first diversity and inclusion report, Brown cites early progress and work ahead

In the first year following the launch of its diversity and inclusion action plan, the University made strides on faculty and student diversity and focused on building a foundation for long-term success.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — One year after launching an ambitious action plan to create a more diverse and inclusive academic community, Brown University has issued an annual report citing the recruitment of more faculty and students from historically underrepresented groups, expanded financial support and resources for students from diverse backgrounds, and a number of other early indicators of progress.

The report focuses attention on the University’s efforts — including the development of department-level diversity and inclusion action plans by every academic and administrative unit at Brown — to build a foundation for sustained, long-term success toward achieving the action plan’s goals.

“At Brown, we know that diversity and inclusion are central to academic excellence,” University President Christina Paxson said in a cover letter to the annual report. “Our charge is to recognize, understand and overcome impediments — prejudice, bias and systemic barriers — that stand in the way of creating a diverse and inclusive campus.”

Paxson said that while the report indicates that Brown has made significant progress, “despite these successes, there is still a great deal of work to do if we are to meet the ambitious goals of the DIAP.” She noted that a faculty-student-staff Diversity and Inclusion Oversight Board identified the need for better qualitative data collection and increased attention to issues relating to individuals with disabilities.

In launching Pathways to Diversity and Inclusion: An Action Plan for Brown University (DIAP) on Feb. 1, 2016, leaders at Brown resolved that the plan would not represent the culmination of an effort, but rather a commitment to progress in achieving the fully diverse and inclusive campus essential to the University’s core mission of education and discovery. The DIAP reflected the contributions of students, faculty and staff after a campus-wide process.

Key goals of the plan include doubling the number of faculty members and graduate students from historically underrepresented groups by 2022; creating learning environments where students and researchers can thrive in their fields of study; and bolstering Brown’s national and international impact on research and teaching focused on race, ethnicity, inequality and justice around the globe. 

In year one, the annual report explains, Brown focused primarily on the development of policies, infrastructures, mechanisms, resources and pilot programs that create a sustainable path to the plan’s future success. Chief among these efforts has been the development of the diversity and inclusion action plans (DDIAPs) for every academic and administrative department on campus. Created by faculty and staff, often with input from students and alumni, the plans establish department-specific goals and outline initiatives as varied as community-building activities that allow for sharing best practices and new strategies for engaging faculty, students and staff on issues of race, ethnicity, power and privilege.

“The DDIAPs offer an important way for departments to hold themselves accountable to the goals of the University-wide plan,” said Liza Cariaga-Lo, Brown’s vice president for academic development, diversity and inclusion. “More than anything, the process to develop each plan created opportunities for faculty, students, staff and even alumni to have important, sometimes difficult conversations about diversity and inclusion.”

Other foundational efforts over the past year included new initiatives to broaden diversity at Brown. Among these were the creation of a Presidential Diversity Postdoctoral Fellowship; the establishment of new mentoring programs for students from underrepresented groups; and professional development programs for faculty and staff.

The report noted accountability mechanisms implemented to measure progress toward the DIAP’s goals, including the creation of the Diversity and Inclusion Oversight Board and the DIAP Diversity Dashboard, an online, interactive data visualization system that presents information on faculty, student and staff diversity.

Though capacity building was at the center of the past year’s work, the report notes immediate signs of progress that include an increase in hiring of faculty from historically underrepresented groups — of the 37 regular faculty hired in 2015-16, 11 were faculty from such groups, representing nearly 30 percent of hires. 

Another major goal of the DIAP is to increase undergraduate student diversity, with a focus on recruiting and improving the experiences of African American/Black, Latinx, Native American, Southeast Asian, Pacific Island, first-generation, low-income and undocumented students. The annual report cites the early decision undergraduate admission data for the Class of 2021 that demonstrated robust admission of students from diverse backgrounds, including 36 percent who self-identify with historically underrepresented groups.

“These numbers show us that our intentional implementation of many mechanisms to recruit historically underrepresented groups to Brown as both students and scholars is working,” Cariaga-Lo said. “We are seeing an early impact.”

The report also highlights examples of how Brown has improved support for students from diverse backgrounds once they matriculate. This included the opening of a dedicated center for first-generation and low-income students and increased mental health resources and diversified counseling staff, among other initiatives. Curricular and co-curricular efforts to increase and support diversity included expanding programs that support students in the STEM fields, as well as increasing access to student internships through BrownConnect and LINK awards that enable and low- and middle-income students to take part in unpaid internships during the summer.

Beyond noting early successes, the report outlines areas where significant work remains. These include the following needs: to increase graduate student, medical student and staff diversity; further expand academic mentoring and mental health services for underrepresented students; sustain departmental engagement in the DDIAP process; continue work to create a more fully inclusive academic infrastructure; address concerns about climate that arose in a campus-wide staff survey; and continue to hone feedback and accountability mechanisms. The DIOB has provided a set of recommendations on these areas and others that will be incorporated into future work.

“We learned a great deal in year one,” Cariaga-Lo said. “Our next step is to use what we learned to identify best practices and determine the best places to invest our resources so that we can expand and sustain this essential work. I am excited to see how engaged our whole community has been in this process — ultimately, this is collective work that our community must do together, united in the belief that inclusive excellence is a central principle in our research and teaching mission.”

The next annual report will follow a year from now, but an ongoing list of progress highlights, organized by the DIAP’s six priority areas of implementation, can be found on the Pathways to Diversity and Inclusion website.