Time to Act: Progress on making PSU a more equitable campus
One year into an ambitious three-year racial justice and equity action plan, Portland State leaders say progress has been made but there is still more work to be done to realize an equitable and just…
One year into an ambitious three-year racial justice and equity action plan, Portland State leaders say progress has been made but there is still more work to be done to realize an equitable and just university experience for all. "I am delighted we accomplished most of our Year 1 goals and am incredibly grateful to everyone who engaged with these efforts," said Ame Lambert, vice president of Global Diversity and Inclusion. "I look forward to continued progress; we can't relax now."
Ame Lambert, VP for Global Diversity and InclusionThe development of the plan began in 2020 amid the reckoning on racism and social justice issues that swept through Portland and the nation. That summer, President Stephen Percy made racial justice his highest strategic priority and Lambert arrived on campus to begin her new role. PSU is the third institution where Lambert has led a process for creating and implementing an equity plan — but she says the reckoning of 2020 brought a different kind of energy and intensity. In October 2020, more than 500 students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members came together to collectively envision the PSU they wanted to see. Five cross-campus task forces then recommended continuing actions to make that vision a reality in the areas of student access success and equity; employee access success and equity; campus climate and intergroup relations; education, scholarship and service; and leadership and infrastructure. "This work is not easy and the results won't always translate neatly into boxes checked," said PSU President Percy. "We've resolved to continue to learn and grow together and to center the voices and experiences of our BIPOC community members throughout the process. We also acknowledge that we will need to consistently evaluate, learn and adapt along the way." Student Access Success and Equity PSU is leveraging grants, partnerships and other resources to make strides on its efforts to recruit and retain a diverse student body and ensure equitable outcomes for all. One grant, from Oregon's Higher Education Coordinating Commission, is helping re-engage and retain underrepresented students who stopped attending PSU through micro-grants, stipends for high-impact practices such as study abroad opportunities, internships and undergraduate research experiences and other affinity-specific supports. Another grant, from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and Coalition of Urban Serving Universities, is developing a partnership with Portland's Self Enhancement, Inc. to strengthen the pipeline of Black, Indigenous and Latinx adult learners. Other ongoing initiatives include participation in a national cohort to better support first-generation students; the planning of two diasporic study abroad trips to Ghana and Vietnam in 2023; and a partnership with Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center (POIC) to hire students of color into living-wage jobs and support them with tuition stipends and mentoring. GDI will also work with PSU's newly hired student communications manager to ensure that broad, student-facing communications are responsive to the experiences of BIPOC students. Lambert said there are renewed efforts to support the retention and career development of minoritized students, in particular Native and Black students, who have the lowest graduation rates. Strategic investments from the president are supporting the expansion of the NATIONS and ACCESS first-year student support programs as well as providing second-year programming for students. A new volunteer employee program will also be launched to pair students with mentors who can support their success. Strategic and student fee funds also supported the establishment of the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia (MENASA) and DREAMer student centers. Two task forces composed of faculty, staff and students are exploring ways for PSU to better support students as it becomes an Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution (AANAPISI) and a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI). "We want the 'serving' in our designation to be the hallmark of our designations," said Lambert, paraphrasing leading HSI scholar Gina Garcia. "We want our students to find their home, their place here. We want them to become here." "We don't just want to get our students to the graduation stage," Lambert continued. "As laudable as that is, we want to make sure that they're equipped for their first promotion with the kinds of experiences that they're having here in terms of technical, social-emotional and navigational pieces. We want them at decision-making tables, we want them to lead and we want them to have agency over their lives and the ability to impact their communities." Employee Access, Success and Equity
Evan T. Green, executive director of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion at PSU's School of Business, greets honorees at the PSU-sponsored "Say Hey" event. (PC: Partners in Diversity)On the employee side, GDI introduced programs and training aimed at community-building and equipping faculty and staff with tools to bring an equity lens to their respective departments and spheres of influence. More intentional efforts are being made to connect new BIPOC faculty and staff with each other and affinity groups through lunches, social events and meetings with administrators. New employees are now nominated for Partners in Diversity's "Say Hey" program, the largest multicultural networking event in the region for professionals of color who recently relocated to Oregon or southwest Washington. PSU hosted November's event on campus. New BIPOC tenure-track faculty are also gifted with Written/Unwritten: Diversity and the Hidden Truths of Tenure (UNC Press), a book to help them navigate the "hidden curriculum" of the tenure and promotion process at a predominantly white institution like PSU and invited to periodic gatherings to support community-building, networking and capacity building opportunities. The Leadership Academy was another opportunity for staff and faculty in leadership positions across campus to come together and dig into their strengths as leaders. Participants were encouraged and empowered to advance change within the system. Vanelda Hopes, chief of staff to PSU's provost, was part of the first Leadership Academy cohort and said it was the first program she has attended where participants were able to explore management tools through an equity-focused lens. "The experience of building these skills in a predominantly BIPOC cohort allowed for exploration of how to manage in a predominantly white institution as a manager of color, an incredibly important topic that had never been up for discussion in any other venue," she said. "In addition to the leadership tools we gained from the academy, the cohort members were able to create valuable friendships with colleagues from across campus allowing us to continue to connect and problem-solve together." Elsewhere, managers also received training about trauma-informed care practices and working with employees to set DEI goals and evaluate them during annual performance reviews. A faculty senate ad hoc committee also released a report last year to encourage a broader definition of scholarship and creative output and to recognize the many ways minoritized faculty are called on to advance the institution and the unique barriers that they face in the tenure and promotion process. Education, Scholarship and Service
Graduates from Intercultural U's third cohortEfforts are underway to better support faculty in providing relevant, culturally responsive curriculum, including a project to map BIPOC students' experiences; developing a toolkit to serve as a resource for faculty; and creating a racial justice web portal. There are also plans to establish a President's Racial Justice Speaker event in the spring. This past year also saw the launch of the Race and Ethnic Studies Requirement, which ensures all undergraduate students leave PSU with an understanding of how historic and ongoing racism affects institutions in Oregon, the U.S. and the world. Recognizing that student success for a more racially and culturally diverse student body requires ever increasing intercultural fluency, Lambert launched a third cohort of Intercultural U in the summer with participation from across campus. The program is a nine-session, 25-hour program that explores topics related to the personal, cultural and societal aspects of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. Lambert said the program creates spaces for faculty and staff to have meaningful conversations about difficult topics and hold each other accountable. There will be future cohorts and her hope is that the more employees who participate, the greater the cultural shift will be across campus, she said. Campus Climate & Intercultural Relations A marker of progress over time, regular climate surveys offer a snapshot of overall workplace climate and provide insights into specific DEI efforts and impacts. PSU enlisted the help of ModernThink, a firm that surveys a representative sample of employees about the quality of their workplace experience, but Lambert said participation was low. Underway now is the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), which assesses the quality of undergraduate education. Results will be disaggregated to gain a deeper understanding of any different patterns among groups. Leadership & Infrastructure
The Future and Thriving of BIPOC Communities macro convening brought together campus and community partners around a shared agenda.GDI's biggest Time to Act undertaking was the series of affinity convenings that took place during the summer and fall, culminating in the "Future and Thriving of BIPOC Communities Macro Convening." Those events broadened PSU's equity and racial justice focus to include community partners and ensure that its motto "Let Knowledge Serve the City" intentionally includes BIPOC communities as the region diversifies. Lambert said the goal is to take the insights from the convenings and partner with other critical institutions and internal stakeholders to move initiatives forward. In terms of advancing an equity-based budget, vice presidents and deans across campus submitted their insights on how they use budgets to advance equity and inclusion and support minoritized students as well as what is needed to continue the work. Lambert said the university's financial challenges will likely impact the pace of this work in the next year. "We recognize that our progress might be impacted and even slow a bit with transitions and budget realities, but we are determined not to stop," she said. "These priorities must stay on the table, conversations must keep happening and we must continue to proactively embrace our future as a majority BIPOC student institution — that's important." She said that the heart of the work is the experience of minoritized students and employees — making an impact by closing equity gaps, supporting their thriving and changing infrastructure and culture to drive equity. "Candidly, I don't feel like we've gotten there yet, but there is a sense that the institution is leaning into the plan — this is a priority for us. That should be recognized and celebrated as many folks across our community are finding ways to prioritize these efforts," she said. "We appreciate and honor your work and ask you to not give up; we need you to stay the course until our reality starts to match our aspirations." That PSU was honored with the 2022 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award and selected as a Racial Justice and Equity Program scholar from the Coalition of Urban Serving Universities is proof that real change is happening, she said. Looking ahead Looking ahead to 2023, Lambert is anticipating the following milestones: The establishment of a Tribal Relations program by year's end as well as the 20th anniversary celebration and reaffirmation of the Native American Student and Community Center; The formal launch of the MENASA and DREAMer student centers as well as deeper insights into the needs and experiences of those communities; The advancement of the AANAPISI and HSI designation efforts; BIPOC alumni engagement; Continued efforts to lean into closing equity gaps and supporting minoritized students and employees; Advancing the outcomes from the convenings including expanding the POIC/PSU partnership; and Creating pathways for adults to complete their degrees