Diversity, inclusion education director prioritizes relationships in first year

Media Credit: Maansi Srivastava | Photographer

Jordan West, the director for diversity and inclusion education, said she is working with officials to assess how bias trainings implemented over the past year have impacted students.

Updated: Oct. 14, 2019 at 1:27 p.m.

Jordan West has spent her first year on campus transforming the ways the University prioritizes diversity and inclusion. 

West, GW’s first director for diversity and inclusion education, said she has led weekly bias trainings and helped student leaders and professors refine how inclusion is worked into their policies and syllabi since stepping on campus last fall. She said the driving force behind each of her actions is to ensure that students, faculty and staff are considering perspectives of those who are not “in the room.”

“We’re finding that the creation of this role has invited conversation that maybe didn’t always exist or people didn’t always know where to have,” she said. “I also recognize that the role has been one where people know that there’s somebody championing this work on a day-to-day basis, so I’m sitting here thinking about who’s in the room, who’s not in the room, what are the conversations and how to navigate the conversations.” 

West said some of the most rewarding aspects of her job have been building one-on-one relationships with students and faculty. She said she feels the influence her role has even months after she has helped someone, citing a time in which a student leader emailed her to thank her for the impact she had on the organization. 

“Of course, [there were] moments where somebody says ‘we didn’t get exactly where we wanted to go but it brought us to a better place,’ she said. “I find it rewarding, of course, to get those moments where somebody says ‘thank you’, but it’s because they appreciate the work that our team does as a whole.”

Officials vowed to hire a director for diversity and inclusion education in the aftermath of a racist incident involving two sorority women in February 2018. 

In February, the University launched a mandatory virtual training for incoming students and instituted an anonymous bias reporting system, which officials pledged to enact after the incident.

West said the reporting system was created to help officials address challenging situations, but the tool has helped the University move forward and “make change.”

West said she has also led full- and half-day retreats on bias for faculty, staff and students, including members of the Elliott School of International Affairs and about 140 residential advisers. 

She and other leaders of the Office for Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement are working to assess the impact different programming has had on groups that went through the discussions, West said. She said the office utilizes an intern who evaluates the impact of the trainings.

“Everything is always evolving but I would say that we’re very clear on making sure that we’re building a robust educational opportunity for our students, faculty and staff,” she said. 

West said she will focus this year on the fifth annual Diversity Summit, which will take place Nov. 7 and 8, and work with members of the diversity office to continue building and improving diversity trainings for students and staff. 

She said her team will assess different initiatives, like the bias reporting system, the office has rolled out over the past year so officials can make changes to different programs. But she added that building relationships with members of the GW community will always remain a priority in the job.

“The role is still new, right, it’s only a year in, and I’m excited to figure out what else we can build outside of this role,” she said. “I will say that a priority will always remain – one year, five years out – the relationships on this campus.”

Student Association Executive Vice President Amy Martin said students are drawn to West because she is interested in helping students make positive change. She said West led an unconscious bias training for SA members this fall and has been conversing with SA leaders about University policies and trainings for students to help the SA prioritize diversity and inclusion.

The SA Senate passed a resolution Monday calling on officials to implement a “cultural competency” component into the University’s general education requirements and mandate in-person diversity trainings for students. SA leaders said members of the SA have been discussing the potential trainings with West.

“Having somebody at the University that’s able to just be that person that you can check in with and be like, ‘Hey, I’m trying my best, but I really just need your help and your guidance,'” she said. “[She] has been an invaluable resource, not just to me personally but to the SA and student leaders as a whole.” 

SA Sen. Quentin McHoes, ESIA-U and the vice president of GW’s chapter of the NAACP, said students recognize West as an administrator who is “willing to be fighting on the ground with you” and as an advocate for students, which he said is “unprecedented” for many administrators.  

He said that West met with GW NAACP’s executive board and members of the SA’s newly formed Black Senators’ Caucus about how students and officials can respond to a racist Snapchat photo from a former sorority president that surfaced last month.

McHoes said West is not at GW to “prop up the administration” but to make a difference on campus.  

“She’s here to ensure that students see difference in how they interact with one another and how they interact with the administration,” he said.

Dani Grace and Isha Triveldi contributed reporting. 

Editors note: The post was updated to clarify a quote from Jordan West about the implementation of a bias incident reporting system.

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