On Wednesday, Sept. 15th, American University President Sylvia Burwell announced the Year Three outcomes for the University’s Inclusive Excellence Plan.
The Inclusive Excellence Plan, which launched in 2018, “emerged from tragedy and trauma that hurt our community,” said Burwell in the email announcing the Year Three outcomes. “It has helped sustain and grow our work after the racial reckoning of the summer 2020 and the damaging rise in antisemitism, Islamophobia, and hate and violence against Asian and Asian American communities.”
The plan’s fundamental goal is to improve the school’s environment through inclusivity, and acts upon the belief that “we cannot be truly excellent unless we are fully inclusive.” This project aims to amplify the voices of those who suffer the most from systematic racism.
According to Pryia Doshi, the Inclusion Officer of the School of Communication and member of the President’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion, “In order to build more racially equitable systems within the university, we must prioritize the voices, perspectives, and ideas of those who have borne the brunt of inequities in our society.” In the email, Burwell mentions how the plan legitimizes AU’s commitment to push forward and “enhance systems, policies, curriculum, research and resources,” that focus on achieving racial equity and inclusivity in general.
But was it indeed effective? The following are Year Three Outcomes.
Goal 1 – Learning, Curriculum, and Professional Development
100% of AU leadership engaged in a long-year training that aimed to build cultural competence and racial literacy amongst AU’s faculty, staff, students, alumni leadership, administrators and Board of Trustees. The members learned how to apply critical knowledge skills to fight racism and push for inclusivity on a day-to-day basis.
There was a 34% increase in faculty attending Diversity, Equity and Inclusion trainings, and 85% of faculty participants indicated they learned something they will use to make their teaching more inclusive. Moreover, 100% of AUPD officers were trained on implicit bias and fair and equitable policing.
Regarding academics, College of Arts and Sciences and School of Education led antiracist curricular development projects, and three new programs based on Latinx studies; Asia, Pacific and diasporic studies; and disability, health, and bodies, were launched.
Goal 2 – Campus Culture, Climate, and Community
In an effort to create a welcoming space where students, staff, and faculty have a sense of belonging, AU launched its first Black Affinity housing, as well as a new Disability+ Faculty and Staff Affinity Group for marginalized communities such as Black, Latino and Hispanic, LGBTQ+, International, and People of Color.
Additionally the school has two new partnerships that increase access to diverserve mental health providers for faculty and staff.
Goal 3 – Policies, Processes, and Procedures
For Goal 3, AU’s administration committed to promote inclusion, transparency and accountability through all policies, processes and procedures.
As part of the Inclusive Excellence Plan, the school implemented two new technologies that allowed 1,959 students to choose their preferred names, pronouns, and gender identity with AU’s self-service tool.
American also established a new Office of Equity and Title IX, that specializes in centralized reporting and enhances response to all bias, discrimination and harassment complaints for students, faculty and staff.
Furthermore, 13 million dollars were designated to additional financial aid support for this past financial year as part of AU’s Community of Care.
Goal 4 – Access and Equity
The administration also focused on “recruiting, retaining, and recognizing a diverse body of AU students, faculty, staff, administrators, and Board members.”
For that purpose, 100% of senior leadership position searches were conducted through inclusive hiring practices. The administration also launched its first Board of Trustees Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee.
AU had its second-best year on record regarding money raised for access and equity-focused student scholarships. The striking total was of 1.35 million dollars.
Given the lack of diversity within the mental health industry, AU also formed four therapy groups for students from vulnerable communities. This effort was led by the AU counseling center therapists.
Goal 5 – Research, Scholarship, and Creative Work
Section 5 of the Excellence plan was devoted to “fostering, supporting, and promoting scholarship, research, and creative works that attend to diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
AU’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center (ARPC), established a collective of 48 affiliate faculty members who “serve as advisors and contribute to the Center’s critically important work of dismantling structural inequities and fighting for racial equality and social justice.”
Mia Owens, a graduate student at American, is the first student fellow to be part of a new two-year Public History Graduate Fellowship which studies the History of Slavery and Its Legacies in Washigton D.C. This program emerged from a collaboration between The White House Historical Association and AU’s Antiracist Research & Policy Center.
Throughout Year Three of the Inclusive Excellence Plan, the AU community saw ideas and concepts turned into action by the school’s leadership and faculty. Nonetheless, the administration fails to recognize that there is still progress to be made. Last week, Jewish students were targeted by antisimetic graffiti, and the administration responded to this horrendous act by strategically calling it a “possible antisemitic incident” (read this HCAU article for more details). Which begs the question: What now AU? How is Year Four of the Excellence Plan going to address antisemitism, racism and other forms of discrimination on campus and continue its efforts to protect students from all backgrounds?