This summer, Indiana State University faculty/staff and student groups went public with concerns about systemic racism and discriminatory practices on campus and ways to remedy it.

Recently, ISU responded with its “Advancing Inclusive Excellence” action plan, the result of many weeks of listening sessions and dialogue with those groups and others.

The plan is based on ISU’s “renewed commitment to inclusion” and a desire “to provide a safe and welcoming environment that celebrates diversity and prioritizes meaningful inclusive action,” President Deborah Curtis wrote in an introduction.

This past summer, Unity Council ISU, a student group, raised concerns about racial issues and climate on campus, while the Black Faculty and Staff Caucus said the university had “broken” a social contract with them by not addressing ongoing issues related to hiring, handling of bias complaints, discriminatory practices and other concerns.

The ISU action plan outlines what the university has been doing, is doing and proposes to do through initiatives under the areas of instruction and learning; campus environment; awareness; and growth initiatives.

“We can always do more, and this action plan will serve as our guide to continuing our meaningful progress,” Curtis stated.

Nijah Smith, an ISU senior and organizer of the Unity Council ISU, said of the plan, “I think the plan that was issued last week sounds great and looks good on paper. I am curious to see the execution of it though. I know things will not change overnight and that things will take time. Unity Council will continue to work together with faculty, staff, and administrators on campus to make sure these changes happen and create a better campus for ISU students.”

Chavez Phelps, acting chair of the Black Faculty and Staff Caucus, said the caucus will meet Tuesday to review the plan. “We do appreciate the plan as a first step as we’re working to create a more equitable climate on campus,” he said.

What’s important next is to outline how the action items will be carried out and measured to determine their effectiveness, he said.

ISU was founded in 1865, the same year slavery was officially abolished through the 13th Amendment, Phelps said. “I really believe ISU must truly be sort of the beacon, given that symbolism there, of what it truly means to create a campus where there is equity and equality.”

He added, “We want to bring the plan to life and we want it to be a living, breathing document that will guide the work we do,” said Phelps, an ISU assistant professor of school psychology.

Rana Johnson, ISU associate vice president for inclusive excellence, said the action plan was a collaborative effort involving the president’s cabinet; faculty and staff leadership; as well as the Black caucus and student Unity Council.

“We recognize that although we have ongoing equity, inclusion and social justice initiatives and programming in place, we still have more work to do,” Johnson said.

ISU has an Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion; a President’s Council on Inclusive Excellence; an Office of Multicultural Services and Programs; the Charles Brown African American Cultural Center; and in July, it created the cabinet-level position of assistant to the president for human relations, with Sumalayo Jackson appointed to that post.

The university states in its plan that training on diversity and inclusion is something every new hire must complete.

The plan lists several action items in four areas:

Under instruction and learning, the plan has 10 action items, including: review cultural awareness and diversity training opportunities for all employees to complete; update the Foundational Studies curriculum to incorporate more social justice and cultural awareness topics; develop a recruitment and retention plan for faculty and staff of color.

Campus environment has 15 initiatives that include: conceptualize a crosswalk at Fifth and Chestnut streets near Hulman Memorial Student Union; re-commit to investigate and take employment action on employees who violate ISU’s standards of conduct; and ensure that search committees include representatives from diverse backgrounds.

Under “awareness,” the plan has 13 items. It suggests working with the Terre Haute community to retain Black employees by creating listening or learning sessions with the Terre Haute community.

It suggests being “more intentional about efforts to recruit a diverse pool of applicants for every hire on campus by developing a diverse applicant recruitment plan.”

In another item, it says public safety will continue outreach to minority publications and groups for officer recruitment as positions become available. It also calls for reviewing the decision-making process for the speaker series to ensure diverse voices are included.

Another area is growth initiatives. The plan calls for expanding existing successful initiatives to help close the graduation gaps for students of color and Pell grant recipients through funding from the Lilly Endowment (a funding decision is pending).

Johnson, ISU associate vice president for inclusive excellence, has put together a group called EDIEL (Equity, Diversity and Inclusive Excellence Liaisons) with representatives from all ISU colleges and library services, primarily deans as well as faculty and staff.

They share information about initiatives. For example, Arts and Sciences is implementing some social justice initiatives; Health and Human Services has a diversity plan; and the College of Technology has a diversity advisory group. Many colleges and departments have some type of diversity group, plan or advisory council.

“I’m trying to bring some collaboration so we can start to share information ... so we’re not duplicating efforts, but we’re coming together to see what we are doing that is working and what areas continue to require attention,” Johnson said.
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