Diversity and Inclusion Goal Stewards Provide Update on Strategic Planning Work

Dovetailing leadership with diversity and inclusion as part of Creighton University’s ongoing strategic planning has yielded some potentially groundbreaking efforts that could guide the University for generations to come.

During an update meeting with the Diversity and Inclusion goal stewards, Michele Bogard, PhD, and Christopher Whitt, PhD, about 30 Creighton faculty, students and staff heard about the vision of the goal’s three workgroups — one focused on diversifying the University community, another looking at efforts to possibly institute a grant program for inclusive excellence, and a third working to create an Inclusive Excellence Leadership Academy.

“We’re all pleased with the work that’s been done to date,” said Whitt, Creighton’s first-ever vice provost for Institutional Diversity and Inclusion. “One of the running themes for us has been incorporating an Ignatian approach to what we do. We want to be mindful of leaning into our mission.”

In looking at the diversification of the Creighton community, Whitt said the first workgroup looked at what resources Creighton already has in this vein, and the difficult task of looking at what barriers might exist.

The workgroup is presently meeting with vendors who could help the University develop a campus-wide survey on diversity that would gauge reactions and opinions from students, faculty, staff and administration, also building a bridge to the surrounding community and identifying ways in which Creighton could be better engaging with the diverse community outside the academic walls.

The goal’s second workgroup is focused on a program titled Inclusive Excellence Grants, a project that would be similar to the Creighton Global Initiative’s funding model and will seek to provide grants for projects fostering inclusion and diversity.

Bogard said the group is currently finalizing details for the grant application and selection process and ways to build awareness for the program.

In the third workgroup, Whitt said the group members are looking at an initiative that would be unique in higher education, a leadership academy dedicated to inclusivity. The academy could base itself around similar models at Creighton like the Creighton Colleagues program or the Novice program.

“It’s a development model for anyone in leadership at Creighton University,” Whitt said. “This workgroup has done an extensive review of ways in which to develop inclusive excellence. In the 140 years preceding us, people have done some great things individually on inclusion, but now, moving forward, we want to find a way to put all of those things on the same page.”

An initiative further into the future for the Diversity and Inclusion goal is exploring possible pathways to fellowships for underrepresented graduate students, faculty and postdoctoral academics. Whitt highlighted a similar program in which he took part at Marquette University while he was finishing his dissertation at the University of Maryland.

“You get a year to teach and finish the dissertation before entering the tenure track and it’s mutually beneficial,” he said. “The student gets that time and the University gets to see and to work with a rising academic star from an underrepresented group.”

Bringing on more diverse faculty members and researchers, Whitt said, is not simply a means to an end, but a true engagement with how an entire community is enriched by a panoply of voices and backgrounds.

“We’re not just diversifying to diversify,” he said. “It’s intentional and it undergirds what you have in an inclusive community: a benefit not just to underrepresented students but to all students, a benefit to the entire University.”

Globally, Bogard and Whitt said the work of the goal within the wider strategic plan is to open avenues for communication on diversity and inclusion across the University and the Omaha community, where diversity and inclusion efforts are underway amongst a host of organizations.

“We want to do all we can to have genuine communication with our neighbors, our community,” Whitt said. “We want this to be not only top-down, but bottom-up. As a Catholic, Jesuit institution, it’s where we need to be. Collectively, we’re on the cusp of something big. I think a year from now, we’ll be amazed at where we are because we have a community committed to this.”