Obie Ford III presenting to faculty
Obie Ford III addresses faculty during a Building a Community of Equity (BaCE) program session at WSU Vancouver.

“Now is not the time to lose hope. Let us have hope and give a collective push to make real systemic change.”

  • Obie Ford III, associate vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion at WSU Vancouver

The optimism and enthusiasm for change expressed by staff and faculty at WSU Vancouver stems from the budding initiatives and programs set in motion in recent years. Forward thinking and a devotion to diversity and equity are becoming the standard rather than the exception.

“We realized we need to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to bringing about change on our campus,” said Renny Christopher, vice chancellor for academic affairs. “We wanted to turn the campus into a place that is welcoming for all students. We need to work to dismantle systemic racism. It’s a big project and we’re committed to it.”

WSU Vancouver’s efforts in the area of equity and diversity have been nationally recognized. One of the key components is the Building a Community of Equity (BaCE) Professional Development Program, which serves to facilitate Goal 4 of the campus’ strategic plan – to promote an ethical and socially just society through an intentional commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion.

The program takes participants through the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), an assessment used to build cultural competence. The BaCE curriculum is challenging and requires a significant commitment from participants. It’s helped participants identify areas where they can improve and better serve students of color.

“We’ve only been doing this for about 18 months, but we do see movement on the (IDI) index in those who have completed the workshops,” Christopher said. “The workshops are challenging to some of our preconceptions and they’re pretty rigorous. Our facilitators are people who bring a lot of perspective and have a commitment to speak to the issues.”

Christopher said about of the faculty and staff on campus have participated in the BaCE program. This summer, faculty from around the system are able to take part in the online version of the BaCE Pedagogy Summer Academy, a hidden benefit of the COVID-19 pandemic. The “Decolonizing the Classroom” series provides faculty professional development and enrichment addressing student disparities.

“Each workshop of the academy assists faculty understanding of equity-mindedness and supports implementation of culturally responsive teaching practices to assist in retention and student success, particularly for underrepresented student populations. It has been a powerful academy,” said Obie Ford, associate vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion.

Recruitment and retention of faculty and staff is also key in developing diversity and equity on campus. Faculty candidates are required to include a “contributions to equity” statement in their applications, outlining how they intend to help WSU Vancouver reach its diversity and equity goals.

The campus has focused on diversifying its candidate pools with revamped recruitment plans adding equity inclusive language to notices of vacancy and position descriptions. Search committees are required to complete BaCE workshops on equity in the hiring process.

Ford said there are a number of support systems in place once faculty and staff are on campus. The Support and Empowerment for Employees of Color (SEEC) Association is an active Employee Resource Group, and the BaCE program conducts workshops throughout the year to promote community and belonging.

The Collective for Social and Environmental Justice engages faculty, staff and students to discuss and strategize around issues of social, economic, racial and environmental justice.

Through CSEJ and several other committees and employee organizations, WSU Vancouver continues to fight inequality and inspire its community.

“The uprising for Black Lives, racial equity and justice is rooted in love of a critical nature,” Ford said. “We are in the midst of change and another step forward for antiracism, racial equity, belonging and justice. And so it is imperative that WSU Vancouver and the WSU system continue doing the work to center Black people, Indigenous people, People of Color and historically underrepresented populations across policies, processes and practices.”