Campus Update: Diversity and Inclusion

Originally sent to the Grinnell College campus community on Dec. 9, 2019

Dear Grinnellians,

Grinnell College is an educational community, composed of individuals from multiple intersecting communities on and off campus. As is true for employees of the College, our students bring varied geographic, ethnic, racial, religious, and socioeconomic experiences to Grinnell. Together, we form an incredibly close-knit community that strives to support diversity, equity, and an inclusive learning environment that ultimately impacts others beyond the College. Building cultural awareness and encouraging dialogue across differences shapes how we learn and work together.

While our office serves as a focal point for diversity and inclusion work on the campus, the responsibility for putting our values into action belongs to each of us. Our goal in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion is to work collaboratively with others to create and support a truly inclusive experience in all aspects of campus life, helping members of the campus community understand and appreciate how the diversity on campus strengthens us. Together, we can help make diversity and inclusion a priority in our daily work and interactions.

The College has dedicated considerable resources to providing institutional support for diversity and inclusion through three major initiatives: the Committee for Diversity and Inclusion, the Diversity and Inclusion Plan, and a network of diversity professionals who work in various offices across campus. We are eager to share with you some of the accomplishments achieved, as well as plans for continued momentum moving forward.

Institutional Diversity and Inclusion Support

Committee for Diversity and Inclusion

The establishment of the Committee for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) ensures that diversity and inclusion efforts are a fundamental part of the College and will remain a vital component of our institutional goals over the long term. The committee (formerly "council") provides strategic recommendations to President Raynard S. Kington on how to develop and sustain an inclusive and diverse campus community and to evaluate the effectiveness of the College's policies and practices.

The recent change from "council" to "committee" status is an important distinction because it firmly positions diversity and inclusion within our shared governance structure. The move from a temporary task force, to a council, and now to a standing committee in the Faculty Handbook ensures the Committee on Diversity and Inclusion will continue to exist and function as an integral part of the College for years to come.

Comprised of faculty, staff, and students, the committee is charged with:

  • Consulting and serving as a resource for campus units as they develop, implement, and assess their diversity initiatives.
  • Assessing campus climate every three to four years in consultation with the Office of Institutional Research.
  • Recommending policies, practices, and programs designed to improve campus climate for all faculty, staff, students, alumni and guests.
  • Annually reviewing, revising, and implementing the Grinnell College Diversity Plan.

Thanks to the work of the committee, diversity professionals on campus, and our campus partners, the College has acted on many key recommendations to help ensure diversity and inclusion are considered in all aspects of our operations.

Diversity and Inclusion Plan

The Diversity and Inclusion Plan provides a roadmap for diversity and inclusion efforts and exists as a living document - ever-changing and adapting to the needs of the College. It works by incorporating a broad understanding of functions and structures that support diversity and inclusion work across all aspects of the campus, an accountability structure that documents progress, and regularized assessment processes that chart progress and guide priorities for revision and implementation.

Primary goals of the plan are to provide human and financial resources needed to meet diversity goals, increase interdepartmental communication and collaboration, address issues of access and equity in employment, and improve the experience of all students and employees of the College.

The original plan included many detailed recommendations, well over half of which have been completed or are on-going initiatives. Our most recent version of the plan builds and expands on the work begun in 2017. The Committee is currently working with the Office of Analytics and Institutional Research on preparing and disseminating data from our most recent HERI staff campus climate survey. Faculty were surveyed this semester and we plan to administer the student climate survey in the spring.

Diversity and Inclusion Staffing Resources

The Office of Diversity and Inclusion coordinates a "diversity triad" to ensure that the needs of staff, students, and faculty alike are addressed. This "triad" consists of Maure Smith-Benanti, recently promoted to dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion whose efforts primarily focus on the student experience; Marc Reed, diversity recruiting manager, who primarily works with staff; and myself as chief diversity officer and assistant vice president who oversees faculty hiring and works with the vice president of academic affairs and dean of College on issues related to diversity and inclusion. This important and regular collaboration supports intersectional and crosscutting work across various campus constituencies as we seek to maintain a more diverse and inclusive Grinnell. I am pleased to announce that Marc, Maure, and I have been invited to present our talk, "An Embedded Triad Approach to Diversity and Inclusion at a Selective Liberal Arts College in the Midwest," at the National Diversity Congress's Diversity in Leadership Conference in April, hosted by the Harvard Faculty Club. We are grateful for Raynard's ongoing commitment, encouragement, and financial support in this endeavor.

Currently, there are 12 staff members whose primary focus is related to the support of the College's diversity and inclusion efforts. These colleagues are housed in various offices across campus, including Student Affairs, Academic Affairs, Athletics, Admission, and Alumni Affairs. We are pleased to welcome our most recent hire, Deka Spears in Intercultural Affairs whose main responsibilities are working with students and supporting the growth and development of the Stonewall Resource Center. Also, the recent promotion of Vrinda Varia to Director of Intercultural Affairs and her excellent work with new students and multicultural student organizations provide an important foundation for student success and thriving on campus.

A Diverse and Inclusive Campus Experience

The following list highlights a number of initiatives that support our overall diversity and inclusion goals:

  • All new employees, student leaders, and peer mentors continue to receive Title 9, implicit bias, and active bystander training.
  • Periodic inclusive teaching and learning workshops for staff and faculty have been conducted.
  • An examination of the integration of diversity and inclusion work in salary and personnel reviews has been ongoing.
  • Assistance is available to offices and academic departments that need help with setting and implementing diversity and inclusion goals.
  • Our HERI campus climate survey was administered to staff last spring and to faculty last month. Students are scheduled to be surveyed in the spring. Results will be used to inform recommendations and changes to the Diversity and Inclusion Plan.
  • Executive Council and Staff Council members are meeting and discussing ways to work collaboratively to support a diverse and inclusive environment.
  • Offices and academic departments continue to work toward incorporating diversity and inclusion goals and progress in annual reports, performance reviews, and budget requests.
  • The Office of Diversity and Inclusion continues to work with the Executive Council and Human Resources to refine diversity recruitment, hiring, and retention processes.
  • Hate crimes and bias-motivated incident protocols have been implemented, a restorative justice working group has been created, and tangible steps have been taken to create greater clarity, transparency, and accountability in all offices and programs across campus.
  • When conflict does arise, the College's ombudsperson, Chinyere Ukabiala, is available to provide conflict resolution training and services to constituents on campus. She is also a confidential resource for any member of the campus community.
  • The College has taken steps to recruit and hire a more diverse student staff. Mark Watts continues to focus on diversity in his role as training and student employment coordinator in Human Resources, and Jessica Waldschmidt was hired in November 2019 as the inaugural campus employment learning program manager.
  • Admission has continued to work on increasing diversity on student panels that meet with prospective students, featuring enhanced diversity-related content in publications and campus tours.
  • Resources have been devoted to infrastructure needs including ongoing progress toward having gender-inclusive restrooms in every public building.
  • Work is underway to address challenges associated with the implementation of the name-in-use policy, which reinforces the College's commitment to welcome, include, and support all Grinnellians.
  • In November, the Office of Development and Alumni Relations hosted its second Multicultural Alumni Reunion, which was organized by one of our diversity professionals, Sarah Smith-Benanti, assistant director of alumni and donor relations for diverse communities. This year, we were pleased to honor five alumni with Grinnell's Diversity Champion Award.

As you might imagine, these updates represent a small sampling of what has been accomplished and the work we still have to do. I am extremely proud of these accomplishments and look forward to seeing projects come to fruition.

Thank You

I am honored to have been a part of the accomplishments that have been made and the groundwork that has been laid for continued success in promoting diversity and inclusion at Grinnell. I am especially thankful for President Kington's unwavering commitment to supporting my work and for the support of administrative staff who supported my work these past years: Terri Phipps, Donna Dorothy, Retta Kelley, Marcia Baker, Amber Robson, and Connie Herchek.

In the fall of 2020, I will be returning to teaching in the Gender, Women's, and Sexuality Studies program where I began my career at the College in 2008. I do so with full confidence that our senior administration, diversity professionals, other employees, and students will continue to collaborate and ensure that the good work being done carries forward. The College is partnering with a national search firm, Carrington & Carrington, to hire a new chief diversity officer and I am committed to helping make sure a smooth transition is made.

The diversity of the Grinnell community is a special thing. It allows each of us to learn from one another and to fully engage with different cultures, viewpoints, and ways of life. I would like to reiterate my deepest thanks and appreciation to the many students and faculty, and staff colleagues that make our work and this amazing community possible. I look forward to our continued work together.


Lakesia Johnson
Assistant Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer
Associate Professor of Gender, Women's, and Sexuality Studies