By Ryan Barnhart, DHSc
Director of Alumni Relations, California University of Pennsylvania
Are you wanting to create more opportunities for diversity, equity, and inclusion for your constituents, but not sure where to begin? Here’s how one Alumni Relations and Development Office started.
We started from the bottom
At California University of Pennsylvania, our Office of Alumni Relations has been working collaboratively with departments across campus to paint a true picture of what diversity, equity, and inclusion means for our students, our alumni, and our institution’s history and future. Examining DEI concepts through a variety of lenses is essential to success. For many of us in higher education, our campuses are at times the first, and unfortunately the only, opportunity to have an open, meaningful dialogue around diversity, equity, and inclusion for our students.
Our institution has a history of acknowledging and embracing our diverse populations across campus. For example, we’ve always celebrated the legacy of Jennie Adams Carter, our first Black alumna, and her impact on education and her family’s legacy, (Cal U was founded originally as a normal school for teacher education). Other examples include yearly dedicated outreach and programming honoring international students and their heritage. Much of this programming is student-centric. However, as the director of alumni relations, I felt that we could do more to inclusively represent the authentic voices of our alumni base better. As an alum of Cal U myself, and with what I consider a very diverse and inclusive friend group from my time here, I knew that these authentic voices live vibrantly in our alumni.
The working title of our strategy, Mosaic, is just that, a mosaic of experiences. The true, authentic experiences of our alumni and students is represented and told through our various programming, events, and communications to both acknowledge and celebrate diversity. We are using this energy across campus to create a portrait of the individual stories that make up our institution’s collective narrative. While this concept is in its early stages, we have found it to be a great starting point. As an old theater kid, we started at the very beginning, which if you’ve seen the Sound of Music (my first musical theater performance), you know is a very good place to start.
We started by creating profiles and narratives featuring the voices of our alumni. For us, this means recognizing different races, ethnicities, religions, cultural backgrounds, abilities, socioeconomic statuses, and familial higher education backgrounds, to name a few. While simultaneously recognizing their achievements, we have also developed programming and communication that promotes conversation around their experience and their professional and personal development. We use a cross-campus collaboration strategy to implement inclusive practices. This strategy includes:
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