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DIOB issues annual memo to aid University diversity, inclusion goals

Paxson, Locke issue joint response to memo acknowledging areas for growth

The Diversity and Inclusion Oversight Board released its annual memo to the Brown community earlier this month — making public their recommendations to sustain and further the University’s progress on goals detailed in its Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan.

Shortly after, President Christina Paxson P’19 and Provost Richard Locke P’18 published a joint response to the memo’s recommendations and concerns.

The memo examines the University’s progress in achieving its DIAP goals and makes recommendations for the University to improve its success in certain areas. This year, the memo called for greater transparency with the University’s data collection and asked for the University to redouble its efforts in recruiting and admitting undergraduate students from historically underrepresented groups. The memo also recognized the University’s success in diversifying faculty and graduate student populations.

The DIOB memo follows the release of the third annual DIAP report in May. The DIAP, which was introduced in February 2016, outlines a set of actions the University should take to promote diversity and inclusion within the campus community, The Herald previously reported.

Some of these initiatives include increasing representation from HUGs among faculty, students and staff; investing in education and research on race, ethnicity and inequality; and fostering a more inclusive living and learning environment. The plan defines HUGs as individuals who self-identify as “American Indian, Alaskan Native, African American, Hispanic or Latinx and Native Hawaiian and/or Pacific Islander.”

Success in attracting graduate students and faculty from HUGs

From 2017 to 2018, the percentage of incoming domestic graduate students from historically underrepresented groups increased from 18 to 31 percent, which the DIOB memo touted as one of the University’s biggest successes in advancing diversity and inclusion on campus.

Similarly, the memo stated that the University’s success in recruiting faculty members from HUGs likely puts Brown on track to fulfill its DIAP goal of doubling the number of faculty from HUGs by 2022.

To maintain this success, the DIOB recommended that the University continue with its practice of “cluster hiring” ­— hiring multiple faculty members based on mutual, interdisciplinary interests.

This tactic was used to create research clusters around African American literature and culture and Carceral Studies, according to the memo.

Citing national news coverage, Shontay Delalue, vice president of institutional equity and diversity and co-chair of the DIOB, wrote in an email to The Herald that cluster hiring could increase faculty diversity. The memo also linked cluster hiring with increasing grad student diversity, noting that “success in hiring HUG faculty often leads, a year or two later, to a surge in HUG applications for MA and PhD programs.”

The DIOB also credited the University’s Admission Office for initiatives to support undergraduate applicants from HUGs. Such initiatives include the University’s hosting of College Horizons, a non-profit aimed at increasing the number of Native American, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students in higher education, and expanding the University’s partnership with QuestBridge, a program aiming to increase the percentage of low-income students in higher education.

DIOB identifies areas for improvement

While the DIOB praised the University for its efforts to diversify its faculty and graduate student populations, the board called upon the University to offer more transparency on data collection for its diversity and inclusion initiatives. “It is often said that sunlight is a natural disinfectant,” members wrote. “We know that much has gone right, and we celebrate those things. But true accountability requires a full airing of everything that has not lived up to expectations or has failed, too.”

In the memo, the board criticized the DIAP annual report’s brief format and the manner in which the DIOB reviews the document. “We believe that this method of oversight — closed-door meetings in which information is shared and then condensed down to the more manageable size of the annual report — falls short of the University truly holding ourselves accountable for the progress we are making toward our goals.”

To share as “much information as possible with the entire campus,” the DIOB suggested the creation of a holistic diversity dashboard which would release demographic data for each academic department and each admitted class. It would also break down HUG yield rates, financial aid commitment and the intersections between the two.

The Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity currently publishes data regarding representation of students and faculty of color, as well as University-conducted climate surveys.

The 2019 annual report disclosed that changes in the representation of undergraduate students from HUGs trailed behind the corresponding improvements seen among the University’s faculty and graduate student populations. Total HUG undergraduate representation was at 21.1 percent as of 2018, a decrease of 0.2 percent from fall 2016, The Herald previously reported.

The board also questioned whether the DIAP laid out the best approach to increasing the admission of HUG students. When drafting the DIAP in 2015, the OIED received over 60 submissions from community members that suggested ways to increase undergraduate diversity through admissions.

“Self-scrutiny means that we should be assessing whether we made the right calls back in 2015,” the board wrote of when the OIED selected the proposal included in the final draft. “These hauntings … reflect well on (the University’s) commitment to remembering its past, but they trouble our sense of success in this moment, especially when it comes to undergraduate admissions.”

To attract more students from HUGs, the DIOB suggested that the University set goals for HUG recruitment, examine application review processes and consider implementing new practices such as environmental context dashboards and adversity metrics. Environmental context dashboards clarify the opportunities that were available to each student at the time of applying.

The DIOB also called for the University to continue to address a tense relationship between faculty and staff. “For years, staff across divisions have expressed a lack of respect — and even decency — from faculty members,” members wrote.

A staff climate survey conducted in spring 2016 found that only 52 percent of staff agreed that “Brown is a place where its staff members are treated with respect by faculty,” The Herald previously reported.

The DIOB recommended a formal mechanism for staff to submit feedback about faculty. The board also urged the University to further diversify its staff at all ranks, which could be addressed through new mechanisms of recruitment, professional development and promotion.

The president and provost respond

Paxson and Locke addressed the memo’s concerns and recommendations in a response to the board, which was publicized in a community-wide email last week.

When responding to the DIOB’s recommendation to continue cluster hiring, Paxson and Locke reaffirmed the University’s support for the practice, but wrote that successful cluster hiring “stemmed from faculty interest and department level planning, not administrative decisions.”

While Paxson and Locke agreed that transparency regarding diversity and inclusion is essential, they disagreed with the board’s assessment that the University adopted a “closed-door” approach to data analysis. “There are real challenges in both the collection and analysis of data — for example, we are unable to share data when the population within a department is smaller than five,” they wrote. “While we support the spirit of your recommendation to create a comprehensive diversity dashboard, we must also take this occasion to remind you that some data must remain confidential due to regulatory reasons.”

Following the DIOB’s concern over undergraduate diversity and admissions, Paxson and Locke highlighted their commitment to “building a strong pool of applicants from a diverse set of backgrounds and geographic locations.” In the letter, the president and provost noted the University’s decisions to increase travel funds for prospective students attending A Day on College Hill and the University’s rural fly-in program as evidence of their commitment. This initiative brought 20 prospective students from rural areas to campus to learn about the University.

To address the memo’s attention to the relationship between staff and faculty members, Paxson and Locke referenced the University’s latest campus climate survey, which showed “modest improvements from the initial survey in the percentage of staff who reported that they felt respected by their faculty colleagues.” They also mentioned the new leadership of Amanda Bailey, vice president of human resources, as an opportunity to reset and strengthen the relationships between staff members and faculty on campus.

Throughout the upcoming academic year, the OIED will work to prepare the fourth annual DIAP progress report. Throughout this process, the DIOB will work alongside the OIED to identify areas for improvement and to review early versions of next year’s annual report.


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