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Finding Common Ground

Finding Common Ground

Institutional Diversity and Inclusion

In an era of #MeToo, DACA protests, debates about gender-affirming restrooms and allegations of foreign meddling in democratic elections, there are numerous issues with the potential to be socially polarizing. Simply put, it can be difficult to find common ground. The Office of Institutional Diversity & Inclusion (OIDI) helps the TCC community find that common ground. The goal of OIDI “is to sustain an inclusive and productive learning community.” Diversity and Inclusion efforts in the District focus on appreciating and respecting differences, while valuing the shared characteristics within members of our College and surrounding community.

Elva LeBlanc writing on white boardTCC created its Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion in 2010. The OIDI mission supports all three District Strategic Goals of One College, Student-Ready College and Serve the Community and the four following principles: Integrated Student Success Model, Student Experience, Campus Character and Quality and Workspace Environments. Through its mission, OIDI sponsors attendance at professional development events such as the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education, supports on-campus book clubs and human libraries, collaborates on events such as the Defamation Experience, supports the District Safe Space committee and implements climate surveys. Perhaps the greatest undertakings of OIDI have been the creation of the campus-based Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Councils and its two signature training programs, Free To Be Me at TCC and Foundations of Diversity and Inclusion.

Diversity and Inclusion Councils represent each campus, including TCC Connect and the May Owen Center. Membership is open to TCC employees; some Councils have student members. Karen Duarte-Escobar, president of the Student Government Association on South Campus, chose to be a D&I Council student member “because it’s a moral obligation as a leader and constructive member of society.” The Councils host D&I events on their respective campuses and offer feedback to OIDI about each campus’ cultural climate. Duarte-Escobar sees participation as an “opportunity to be the voice for those that aren’t able to speak for themselves.”

Group of people sitting around a table, listening to instructionsThe main OIDI training opportunities are Free To Be Me at TCC and Foundations of Diversity and Inclusion. Free To Be Me is a four-hour training, first offered in 2013, that is now required during orientation for new employees. F2BM educates participants on cultural identifiers and cultural bias, and makes the business case for creating diverse and inclusive environments. According to multiculturaladvantage.com, “Organizations that value diversity see the following benefits: employee wellness and development, measurable productivity and quality gains, human capital retention.” Campus-based versions of F2BM, open to employees and students, will likely launch by Fall 2018.

Foundations of Diversity and Inclusion started in 2013 as a six-session awareness building experience providing D&I Council members a firm foundation in diversity education, allowing them to be effective allies for inclusion on their home campuses. The training series, now four sessions, is open to all employees interested in learning about cultural bias, socialization, cultural humility and allyship. OIDI Associates, faculty and staff who have participated in the training and an additional observation period to ensure the accuracy and integrity of the program, facilitate Foundations and F2BM sessions.

Linda Buckingham, administrative office assistant with District Facilities, OIDI Associate and Trinity River D&I Council member acknowledges that she became involved with OIDI to “help others to be more inclusive…and to help myself be more aware.” Her involvement with OIDI events and training have done that and more.

D&I has helped me to understand others who have not had the same privileges as me and some who have had privileges different from me. It has made me a more loving and compassionate person!

Linda Buckingham

Other Foundations participants often share Buckingham’s sentiments.

Gentleman raising his hand in a crowdJanjura Williams, a student development associate in the Counseling department on NE Campus, successfully completed the six-session version of Foundations in spring 2016. She reflects positively on the benefits of the Foundations experience. “D&I opens the door to commonality in the human condition,” she said. Being more inclusive is not always as easy as it sounds; however, awareness-building opportunities such as Foundations do help. “I have become more comfortable speaking with staff members who are willing to have open discourse regarding diversity.” As it relates to her work on NE Campus, Williams adds, “I try to connect [students] to [relevant] resources on campus.”

To date, 220 employees have completed the Foundations program. The work of inclusion persists with each person who attends a D&I training, campus event, or conference. James Ponder, NE Campus library manager, D&I Council member and OIDI associate, admits that he initially began “exploring the D&I trainings for purely personal reasons.” However, he found himself becoming more invested the more he learned. Ponder wants interested employees to know D&I is not about blaming, shaming “or making anyone feel guilty for being who they are; we are striving only to raise awareness, build empathy and help everyone.” Buckingham agrees, “D&I is not about placing blame on anyone. D&I is also not just about race.” Williams adds, “D&I works on educating all people in the inequality and lack of equity that hinders the growth of all people.”

Woman speaking to a manA mainstay of the D&I office has been Kristi Noel, assistant to the chief diversity officer. Noel was also assistant to the previous CDO, so she knows the D&I office inside-and-out and coordinates a majority of the support services offered by OIDI. In her own words, Noel helps “create environments where individuals feel welcomed and valued, can build their awareness of self and others, can learn about their biases, can practice empathy, can engage with others from various backgrounds and can have meaningful dialogue.”

The work of diversity and inclusion can be emotional, yet fulfilling; work that is highly valued by the D&I champions at TCC. Noel states, “I am honored to work with open-minded individuals to promote cultural humility, help others through personal reflection and give individuals the tools to be change agents.” Available training can be found online in the LearnCenter (EDIV-). To join your campus D&I Council or for more information about getting involved, contact Diversity.Inclusion_OIDI@tccd.edu.

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