External audit to assess on-campus diversity before officials tackle diversity ‘action plan’

Media Credit: File Photo by Eric Lee

Officials said they expect the findings to intersect with ongoing diversity policy reforms to faculty composition, financial aid and police engagement.

The University will commission its first-ever diversity audit this semester before using the findings to roll out diversity policy reforms targeting areas like faculty composition, financial aid packages and campus police relations.

In a release issued Friday, University President Thomas LeBlanc and Provost Brian Blake said they will search for an external firm to lead the audit in the next few weeks, and they expect the study to be completed by late spring. Officials said they will use the audit to create a “diversity action plan” including “goals, action items and regular assessments” to track progress both on campus and within the broader D.C. area based on the audit’s findings, according to the release.

“Our continued commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion is critical to our University’s future and the impact of our teaching and research on the world,” the release states. “We must be unwavering in moving, together as one community, in the direction of progress – ensuring all members of our community have the support they need to learn and to lead.”

Officials said they expect the findings to intersect with ongoing diversity policy reforms to faculty composition, financial aid and police engagement – some of which have already been implemented and others that could arrive in the coming weeks. The release states officials plan to enhance faculty diversity through new hiring policies that will “strengthen opportunities for diverse candidates,” like new hiring requirements, search committees and interviewers.

Officials said they also plan to review financial aid policy and continue improving the GW Police Department‘s relationship with the University community and “especially” students of color. GWPD Chief James Tate rolled out a slew of reform measures during his first year with the department, initiating body-worn cameras, revamping training requirements and focusing on community relations.

LeBlanc said in an interview that the audit should serve as a “comprehensive” assessment of diversity in all aspects of University life, including experiences inside and outside the classroom, like athletics and student events. He said he hopes the audit’s findings will help officials resolve some aspects of campus life lacking in diversity with the help of input from GW community members.

“By talking to students, faculty and staff, and maybe even alumni and community members, I know we want this to be comprehensive,” he said. “We hope to shine a light on any aspects of our community that are not welcome and inclusive, and that will give us an opportunity to see what we can do to fix it.”

LeBlanc said the hiring freeze launched during the COVID-19 pandemic allotted officials more time to draft policy changes to their hiring process with respect to diversity.

He said several recommendations outlined in the Black Student Union’s “State of Black GW” report issued last fall helped officials identify the three focus areas where they could enhance diversity. He added that officials communicate with BSU on an “ongoing basis” to understand diversity concerns from students of color, like a tendency for GWPD to send more police officers to Black student events than White student events.

“I’m very conscious of the fact that we don’t all experience the University in the same way, and it’s not only because we’re different individuals,” he said. “And I think a student of color will experience the University differently than a White faculty member, for example.”

To jumpstart diversity reform, Blake said the University’s financial aid policy that benefits students in need could see changes as soon as the next few weeks, just ahead of the distribution of financial aid packages to the incoming Class of 2025.

Blake said the University will feature a committee of student leaders, experts and other members of the GW community who can recommend which firm could be the best to conduct the diversity assessment.

Blake added that members of the Faculty Senate and the Jewish community at GW have stressed the need for more diversity measures across the University. The Faculty Senate passed a resolution last summer urging officials to improve diversity training and affirm their commitment to fighting structural racism.

“I think that’s an important part of this – is that we just do an introspective look at ourselves and where we can improve and continually make enhancements and hopefully move closer and closer to the diversity and inclusivity that we we aspire to,” Blake said.

Devon Bradley, the president of BSU, said he expects the audit to reveal “a lot of areas for improvement,” which he said include a lack of faculty diversity and financial aid grants. He said he hopes the findings help foster “a campus-wide consciousness” of the needs facing vulnerable groups at GW.

“Students should not be in their third year, their fourth year, having a Black professor for the first time or a Black, woman professor for the first time,” he said. “That’s just extremely problematic.”

Bradley said diversity audits are common at other schools like Drexel University, and officials should continue their use in the future. He said he hopes the findings inspire officials to hire more faculty members from minority backgrounds.

“What I’m really hoping to see is a significant increase in Black faculty in response to this and in Black counselors, Black mental health physicians, just more minorities in positions of power and influence on campus,” he said.

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