Members of the North Central College Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Task Force are preparing to take what they have learned over the past year and put it into decisive action for the good of the entire College community.
In mid-February, the task force met with Deepa Iyer, director of strategic initiatives for the Building Movement Project (BMP). BMP is an organization dedicated to helping educational institutions, nonprofits and other similar groups strategize how to bring about positive social change.
Iyer’s training dealt with the concept of what she calls a social change ecosystem, which exists in every social change movement. She worked with the Task Force to “map the existing ecosystem (at North Central) with an eye toward maximizing what is working and seeking to change what might not be as effective,” according to Stephen Maynard Caliendo, co-chair of the task force and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
Mapping the ecosystem would allow members of the community to create and take on connected roles to work toward shared values. The goal of the exercise was to build the task force’s capacity to identify the College’s needs when it comes to DEI issues as well as lead the community towards progress.
As Iyer points out in her guide to the social change ecosystem, the key to building movements is recognizing how interconnected the campus community is. “Social change cannot happen at an individual level when we work in silos,” she says. “It happens when we are connected to others. Our bodies, nature and organizations all comprise of ecosystems.”
Using the idea of the ecosystem as a starting point, Iyer engaged the task force in productive, small group discussions where they discovered much about their goals for the College, as well as issues of organization and planning they weren’t yet considering.
Dorothy Pleas, co-chair of the task force and director of multicultural affairs, said what stayed with her most from the training was “the importance of partnerships with College administration and other campus groups in working together to create a more inclusive campus. We need to assess where we are duplicating efforts and where gaps still exist.”
The training was very productive for task force members and gave them new tools as well as added confidence at this critical moment for the College.
“The training will allow us to have additional clarity about our guiding values, identify how we can work with other DEI initiatives on campus, and spread the message about the work that is being done,” said Pleas.
The task force plans to work on their version of the social change ecosystem through the spring semester, and they will soon share what they’ve learned with the campus community through a series of events. One will take the form of an academic seminar on a timely, key issue both at North Central and around the country. Another will address a campus-wide climate study meant to assess the campus community’s perceptions of how the College supports diversity and equity, and their experiences with discrimination and harassment at the College.
“We are still working through the details, but we are hoping to host a forum on political manifestations of white supremacy in the United States led by (Assistant Professor of Political Science) Sean Kim Butorac in March, (as well as a) forum on the results of the climate study in April,” Pleas said.