Every August, Meredith College faculty and staff come together to prepare for the coming academic year. In 2020, that week of preparation and learning looked quite different from previous years given its virtual format, but the high level of participation spoke to the eagerness of community members to connect with and learn from one another.
Meredith’s College-Wide Initiative on Anti-Racism guided the focus for many of the sessions. One of the action steps of the plan emphasizes the need to make anti-racism training available to all faculty and staff. This year, hundreds of faculty and staff participated in a keynote session titled “Cultural Humility: The Ultimate Selfie” presented by Stephanie Helms Pickett, Ed.D., associate vice provost for inclusive excellence and strategic practice at NC State University.
In addition, six breakout sessions were offered that addressed different aspects of structural racism, white privilege, and racial equity. More than 130 employees participated in the sessions that were facilitated by teams of faculty and staff. Participants prepared for the sessions by watching, reading, or listening to a video, article, or podcast. The conversations were designed for faculty and staff at all levels or stages of learning about racial issues.
Breakout session topics ranged from How to Be Anti-Racist to Understanding Mass Incarceration. In addition, a workshop on decolonizing education and educational experiences was held for faculty and interested staff, and the opening meetings in at least two Schools included a discussion of ways instructors should respond to insensitive, non-inclusive, or outright racist comments made by students during class.
More sessions on many of these topics will be offered throughout the academic year and beyond.
Candice Webb, director of StrongPoints®, co-facilitated the session on How to Be Anti-Racist. She participated in the conversations because the work of being anti-racist is important to her personally.
“I have a responsibility to my Black sons to do my part to address racism in America. And I have a responsibility to myself and to my students and colleagues to address racism at Meredith,” said Webb. “While I know that some of my colleagues share in that responsibility, I also know that others do not. We have a long way to go at Meredith. Despite that, I’m committed to doing my part, and I think the conversation I co-facilitated during planning week was a part I could play in the work that needs to be done here. I hope the work will continue.”
Sarah Roth, dean, School of Arts and Sciences, confirmed that these sessions, while critically important, were just the beginning.
“We are under no illusions about the amount of work we as a College have to do to make sure that all students, staff, faculty, and alumnae of color feel they belong on Meredith’s campus,” said Roth. “The discussions and sessions during Faculty Staff Planning Week represent the first steps in what will be a long-term effort to shift our culture toward greater equity and inclusion.”
Other sessions offered throughout the week addressed COVID-19 safety measures, Title IX updates, and fostering community and engagement in an online environment. Psychology faculty members shared results from the “Coping with COVID-19” survey they conducted in the spring semester and then discussed strategies to support learning for students coping with trauma.
Some aspects of the week remained constant, though the virtual format was new. The first faculty meeting of the year was held, and adjunct faculty participated in orientation. Summer Reading facilitators and student advisors prepared for discussions of Educated that will be held on September 7. President Jo Allen, ’80, delivered her annual State of the College address and Executive Leadership Team members provided updates from each of their areas, after which they and President Allen answered questions using Zoom’s chat function.
All typical aspects of Faculty Staff Planning Week – in an extremely atypical year.