Summer Institute brings together dozens of colleges, universities working toward educational equity

Faculty, staff, and administrators from colleges and universities throughout the country gathered in June for the third Summer Institute on Equity in the Academic Experience, a three-day conference that supports problem-solving around educational equity. Teams come to the Institute with a goal for student success and emerge with an actionable plan, having exchanged ideas with other schools, participated in interactive sessions, and received customized coaching.

Hosted by Georgetown University, The American Talent Initiative (ATI)—of which Georgetown is a founding member—Xavier University of Louisiana, and a cohort of leadership sites across the U.S., the 2022 Institute drew teams from 37 different institutions and 425 registered attendees eager to ensure that low-income students, first-generation students, and students of color thrive at their institutions. Coaches and speakers from over a dozen other schools also attended the event, which was free of charge for all guests, thanks to the generous support of ATI, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and the Gray Foundation.

The Institute’s reach has grown significantly since its creation in 2019; Georgetown has since overseen the Institute’s design and organization efforts. After the COVID-19 pandemic led to a fully remote gathering last year, this year’s Institute had a hybrid format, combining recorded welcome messages; live online “provocations” led by guest speakers to inspire conversation among participants; roundtables and workshops; and in-person gatherings of local teams in Washington, D.C., led by Georgetown University.

Reducing inequities through collaboration

Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia called on attendees to reflect on the future of higher education, particularly given how the pandemic exacerbated inequities among students from underserved communities. “How do we get more talented students to and through college?,” he asked. “What conditions must we provide to ensure that each and every student can realize their full promise?”

The 2022 Institute’s leaders at Georgetown—Heidi Elmendorf, director of the Hub for Equity and Innovation in Higher Education; Randy Bass, vice president for Strategic Education Initiatives; Susannah McGowan, director of curriculum transformation at the Red House; Adanna J. Johnson, associate vice president for student equity and inclusion at the Office of Student Equity & Inclusion; and Maya Aduba Williams, program manager for the Office of Student Equity & Inclusion—explored these questions through three thematic priorities that emphasized interuniversity collaboration:

  • Expanding the ecosystem: Encouraging colleges and universities to look beyond their campuses and peer institutions to consider a broader array of perspectives and solutions.
  • Mapping strategic progress: Addressing fragmentation among equity initiatives on campus by focusing on holistic strategic planning.
  • Integrating campus conversations: Breaking down silos to increase knowledge-sharing and collaboration, and reduce redundancies and gaps. 

These priorities are crucial as stakeholders seek “to build and sustain momentum, to gain allies, to grow effectiveness in our goal of educating great students from the full American mosaic,” said Aspen Institute President and CEO Dan Porterfield, founder of ATI and former Georgetown senior vice president for strategic development.

Thinking expansively about equity work

To that end, the Institute’s provocateurs encouraged attendees to reflect on the histories of their institutions and think expansively about closing equity gaps. The first provocateur, Dr. Tim Eatman, associate professor and inaugural dean of the Honors Living-Learning Community at Rutgers University-Newark, urged teams to embrace “hope, history, passion, empathy, and planning” as “five critical senses of engagement” DEI leaders can employ to create change.  

Dr. Timothy Renick, the founding executive director of the National Institute for Student Success at Georgia State University, described how equity data had led his team to the “counter-intuitive” conclusion that institutions “need to think more about systematically changing processes and supports for students across the board” to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) goals, instead of targeting initiatives to specific demographic groups. 

The final provocateur, Dr. Mary J. Lomax-Ghirarduzzi, inaugural vice president for DEI at University of the Pacific, encouraged teams to focus on students’, staff, and faculty’s sense of belonging, recognizing that “higher education has been at the forefront of reproducing the very inequities and disproportionalities” that the Institute is working to reduce.

Supporting a sustained effort

At one of the Institute’s featured roundtables, Dr. Rosario Ceballo, dean of Georgetown University’s College of Arts & Sciences, and Rosemary Kilkenny, Esq., Georgetown’s chief diversity officer and vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), encouraged teams to think broadly about the impact of their work, the value of campus-wide collaboration, and the need to protect changemakers from burnout.

Part of that is creating “a sense of belonging…a sense of thriving…[and] a sense of accomplishment” for students from underrepresented communities, Kilkenny said. Prioritizing the recruitment and retention of faculty who reflect the nation’s diversity is also crucial, Ceballo said. “We have got to change the way our academic institutions look to our students…I want our community to understand that excellence is tied to equity and inclusion in academia.”

“We’re not going to achieve change overnight,” Kilkenny added. “We have to take care of ourselves so we can take care of others and our institutions.”

For Justin Keen, director of assessment and student-centered analytics at the University of Dayton, the Institute has been a source of support. Keen first attended the Institute in 2019 and this year presented with Drew Allen, associate vice president for institutional data analytics at Georgetown, discussing data-driven strategies for improving equitable student outcomes. For Keen, his Dayton team, and other educators, the Institute provides a space for collaboration and motivation. “Having a connection to people at other institutions doing this work has really been emotionally affirming,” Keen said.

To extend the inter-university collaboration promoted by the Institute, ATI also has established the Academic Equity Community of Practice (CoP) to engage institutions in academic equity work year-round. The CoP consists of 35 ATI members, including Georgetown, University of Texas at Austin, and Emory University.

To access resources and recordings of provocations and panel sessions, visit the Summer Institute website.

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