In keeping with Meredith’s mission as an institution of higher education, the College-Wide Initiative on Anti-Racism includes an educational thread throughout. One of the action steps of the plan emphasizes the need to make anti-racism training available to all faculty and staff.
The initiative, which was announced in June 2020, led to a number of educational opportunities throughout the fall semester. These programs started with a keynote and breakout sessions during Faculty/Staff Planning Week. Hundreds of faculty and staff participated in these sessions, which focused on structural racism and racial equity.
The foundations set during planning week continued when employees participated in the Racial Equity Institute’s Groundwater Training in October. The Racial Equity Institute (REI) uses data from areas including education, housing, banking, and more to show how racism is fundamentally structural in nature. (Learn more about REI at racialequityinstitute.com.)
According to REI organizers, the groundwater metaphor used in the training is “designed to help [participants] internalize the reality that we live in a racially structured society, and that this is what causes racial inequity.”
President Jo Allen and the Executive Leadership Team are among those at Meredith who have participated in more extensive REI training.
“The groundwater metaphor is a valuable way to discuss the issues of systemic racism in society,” said Senior Vice President and Provost Matthew Poslusny, who completed the two-day REI Phase I workshop with academic deans last summer. “And just like one needs to address the quality of groundwater if fish are getting sick in many lakes, one needs to address our systems that lead to racial inequality.”
After participating themselves, Meredith’s leadership decided to fund participation in the groundwater session for faculty and staff in support of the anti-racism initiative.
“More than 100 faculty and staff signed up to participate in the training, and others reached out to say they hoped the training would be offered again,” said Professor of Education Julie Schrock, who helped host the virtual session in October. “This tells me the Meredith community recognizes our need to grow in our understanding of issues surrounding racial equity and diversity on our campus.”
Assistant Director of International Programs Traci Stewart Johnson said she participated in the program because she places a high value on educating herself on race and equity issues.
“As the primary international student advisor on Meredith’s campus, I believe it is my responsibility to create ‘safer spaces’ for students, operate in cultural humility, and constantly seek to better understand, communicate with, and effectively interact with students with cultural differences,” Johnson said.
Johnson, like many other faculty and staff, appreciated the opportunity provided by the REI training.
“I understand that educating myself and being open-minded to widening my view on race and equity issues is a life-long learning process that involves critical self-reflection and openness,” Johnson said. “I want to put in the work and appreciate opportunities from Meredith College for training on these issues.”
Exploring Belonging Through Arts & Humanities Common Experience Theme
Meredith’s School of Arts & Humanities (A&H) is using its annual Common Experience as an opportunity to explore “Belonging” and what it means to belong at Meredith College. The Common Experience events were planned by a committee including Arts & Humanities students, faculty, and Assistant Dean of Students Tomecca Sloane.
The theme was selected in February 2020 in recognition that fostering a sense of belonging among all people, regardless of background, is an essential element of building cohesive bonds within a college, a nation, or any other type of community, according to Dean of the School of Arts & Humanities Sarah Roth.
“We recognize that students in the School of Arts & Humanities are from all types of backgrounds and have all types of interests. All of them are Meredith students and all of them enrich our A&H community,” Roth said.
The Common Experience theme included a September kickoff presentation and panel discussion on belonging at Meredith. This event was followed by a series of breakout discussion groups for students. For the fall semester, faculty also created units, assignments, and whole courses that allowed students in their classes to explore the theme in more depth.
The kickoff event, Belonging at Meredith: Past, Present, and Future, featured a presentation by Professor of History Dan Fountain about who has been allowed to belong within the Meredith community at various points in the College’s past.
The presentation did not shy away from discussing types of exclusion that have been found in Meredith’s history. A panel of students representing different identity groups then shared their perspectives on how they see belonging at Meredith now and ways they would like the sense of community to improve in the future. Nearly 500 people, including the Board of Trustees, either watched the panel presentation live or viewed the recorded event.
This presentation was followed by opportunities for students to discuss belonging at Meredith in small groups. These sessions were led by student members of the Common Experience Committee with a faculty member in a supporting role.
The first session focused on the collective experience of marginalized groups on campus, past and present, and the second session focused on moving forward and achieving greater belonging for all members of the campus community. In the second session, students met in affinity groups. These included international students, African American students, students with disabilities, LGBTQIA+ students, white students, and Latinx students.
“The goal is to actively foster discussions for students and faculty to openly express their opinions and stories on issues that have occurred and continue occurring on campus that have caused division and/or discomfort among our students,” said Bartola Garcia, ’22, a student member of the committee.
The discussion topics included what it means to belong, places where students find a sense of belonging at Meredith and where they have not, as well as a look toward the future.
Roth said the sessions were designed to give students a platform to help amplify their voices on campus in order to create positive change in the Meredith community. “We wanted them to see that their experiences are important and that the School of Arts & Humanities cares and wants to drive some important changes,” Roth said.
In order to facilitate change, the Common Experience Committee will share with Meredith leaders a report generated from the discussion groups. Aminah Jenkins, ’23, a student member on the committee, said a primary goal was to listen to students in order to improve their experiences.
“Our plan is to present our findings to various groups on campus. My hope is that this information is used to create informed actionables with tangible results for students,” Jenkins said.
Visit meredith.edu/anti-racism-initiative for updates on Meredith’s progress on the action steps identified in the College-wide Initiative on Anti-Racism.