Growing Our Impact: Elevating our work in diversity, equity and inclusion

graphic of water drop and ripples

February 05, 2021
Robin Kelley, Ph.D., Associate Chief Diversity Officer

How Gonzaga community members can be part
of the work of diversity, equity and inclusion

There is no question that a continued focus at Gonzaga will be on fulfilling the university’s commitment to the cultural growth of students, faculty and staff. The current climate in our country and in our region more specifically – as well as our Jesuit, Catholic, humanistic mission – calls for more. More education and training, more transparency, more partnerships, more listening.

Events on the Gonzaga campus in fall 2020 were further proof of this. Early in the semester, following a summer of nationwide rallies and protests related to Black lives and the use of force by law enforcement, students created an exhibit called “Say Their Names,” which was vandalized. In November, intruders in a Black Student Union virtual meeting hurled racist epithets and threats at students. On more than one occasion over the past of couple years, messages of white supremacy have appeared on campus.

As noted in the fall issue of Gonzaga Magazine, President Thayne McCulloh’s Council on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion has five specific measures to work toward, from recruitment to addressing cultural concerns in our academic environments. While Raymond Reyes has fostered diversity efforts at GU for nearly four decades, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI) he oversees now has greater support with the addition of new positions and a vision for advancing as the central hub of all diversity, equity and inclusion-related endeavors across campus. This office – and with the support of two-dozen faculty, staff and student representatives on the council – places its energy on addressing the systemic and institutional needs of the University.

For all of the energy in place at the macro level, the micro level work occurs with individuals. Personal growth requires committing to being comfortable with dismantling implicit bias and unlearning misinformed preconceptions.

Additionally, energy needs to be placed on addressing microaggressions, which, over time, can have a harmful impact on students, faculty and staff experiences, as well as physical and psychological health and well-being. For students, this includes Intergroup Dialogue opportunities – weeks-long study among small groups representing differing experiences – that is now available for credit. For faculty and staff, it’s intensive training through DiversityEdu.

But there are more opportunities.

On campus, IMPACT (Intercultural and Multicultural Professionals Affecting Change Together) meets periodically to hear presentations and engage in conversation. Now, ODEI and Alumni Relations are discussing similar engagement with alumni, remotely and with others throughout the university family. These are just a few efforts underway to support those who wish to better themselves and serve as allies for peers at Gonzaga.

Learning Together

Academic disciplines such as sociology, social psychology, history, political science, race and ethnic studies, criminology, women’s and gender studies, and cross-cultural psychology have long been engaged in the study of race and difference. These fields look at the social construction of race, gender and social class, and the creation of stereotypes. Many of the questions people are wrestling with today are commonly explored in these fields of study:

  • Why is talking about issues of “race” so challenging for many people?
  • Why is racism so persistent in American culture? And for that matter, around the world?
  • What does the Catholic Church have to say on matters of race and discrimination?
  • What does the term “Black Lives Matter” mean to you? Have you seen an explanation of the message that resonated, or helped you understand it?
  • Novelist and poet Toni Morrison wrote: “To identify someone as South African is to say very little; we need the adjective “white” or “black” or “colored” to make our meaning clear. In this country, it is quite the reverse. American means white, and Africanist people struggle to make the term applicable to themselves with . . . hyphen after hyphen after hyphen.” What is Morrison saying? Do you agree?
  • In contemporary discussions of race, equity and inclusion the concept of “privilege” is frequently discussed.
  • What does the term “privilege” connote? Why would matters of “privilege” enter into discussions of race and discrimination?
  • Many people who are white have difficulty talking about the concept of “whiteness.” Why might this be challenging?
  • What topics regarding race or ethnicity are especially difficult to discuss? Why?

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