Consultant shares findings from equity and diversity work at Pierce College

Grace AmsdenEditor in Chief

The results are in. On May 31, Diversity and Equity Consultant Tanya Bowers reported on her work to the Pierce College Puyallup and Fort Steilacoom community via Skype.

Michele Johnson, chancellor for the Pierce College District, began with an introduction. She shared the mission for Pierce College and information regarding the decision to hire a consultant.

“As we worked on Achieving the Dream over the last four years, a core element that we saw as we reviewed data was that our students were not equally succeeding,” Johnson said during the introduction.

These levels weren’t the same from students with different backgrounds such as by age, gender and economic status, she said.

A year ago, a proposal was made during the budget process to hire someone to work with the district relating to these issues, Johnson said.

This consultant would explore the college in terms of equity, diversity and inclusion such as the college’s procedures, climate and culture, Johnson said. Thus, Bowers’ purpose was to work with the college community to assess cultural competency, diversity and inclusion in the college’s district and then create a diversity plan. Bowers said that people opened their hearts and minds during the process.

“I appreciated how forthcoming respondents were, and I hope that they end up being satisfied with the recommendations,” Bowers said.

To gather information, the anonymous  online Diversity and Inclusion Climate Survey available Dec. 2-18 allowed the Pierce College community to share their thoughts about the college’s atmosphere regarding equity, diversity and inclusion.  From 5,753 students, 13 percent of students responded. From 1,026 employees, 39 percent participated.

A desire for additional clubs and events regarding diversity and inclusion are some of the major takeaways from the survey.

From Nov. 30-Feb. 4, Bowers led interviews in which 14 employees and two students participated. One  question asked to the interview participants included how they’d rate the environment for diversity and inclusion at Pierce. Among major takeaways through the interviews, people expressed that there’s a recent focus toward poverty and equity, a great diversity in the student body and lack of employees of color, especially in faculty and administration.

Twenty focus groups were held Jan. 26-Feb. 3, 2016: nine with students and 11 with employees. Twenty-two students and 56 employees participated.

“Employees responded at a great rate, which is typical,” Bowers said. “I always welcome hearing from as many people as possible, so having more student participation would’ve been great. That being said, we heard from a good number of students (729 responded) in the survey.”

Among the major takeaways from the focus groups include an expressed need for information, training and inclusion among employees and concern regarding Pierce’s education cost for low socioeconomic students as well as expense in general.

Visioning workshops were also held. Three students attended the World Café Jan. 29 at the Puyallup campus, while 11 students attended the Fort Steilacoom campus World Café Feb. 2. At the World Café during All District Day Feb. 16, 420 employees participated.

“The modes of inquiry produced a huge amount of data to review and process,” Bowers said.

More inclusive food options, integration of art around campus and desire for the meaning of diversity were major takeaways from these workshops.

“Not only was a desire for clarity around diversity expressed, but confusion around who is specifically being targeted through existing equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives became apparent,” Bowers said. “Undoubtedly, generating working definitions around these terms as well as dimensions of diversity would be helpful.” 

After the multiple steps to gather information, Bowers organized it into the categories of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

An example of a strength is the student body diversity, content of diversity in employee meetings and student services offered. One weakness is the “lack of direction around diversity and diversity infrastructure” and decrease of diversity in the recruitment of employees.

A further spread of knowledge about student organizations and meeting the needs of employee diversity and inclusion are examples of opportunities. Threats include the distance between campuses and an unwillingness to change.

The goal of Bowers’ Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Plan is “to improve Pierce College’s state, capacity and capability around equity, diversity and inclusion and cultural competency to make it an even-more relevant college,” according to the plan.

Objectives from the plan include the acquisition and development of diverse talent and multiculturalism in classes and curriculum.

“In the end, Pierce is in the business of educating,” Bowers said. “Being a learning environment, the college has to make sure that not only what it teaches but also how it teaches is inclusive.”  

Strategies from the plan include an aligned district planning with equity, diversity and inclusion, an improvement in the number of Pierce employees of color and emphasis on the importance of equity, diversity and inclusion around campus.

A permanent, executive level leadership position for equity, diversity and inclusion will be created. This individual will be in charge of “implementing, editing, updating and tracking the recently-developed equity diversity and inclusion plan,” according to the plan.

“Initially, the position will focus on building an infrastructure around equity, diversity and inclusion,” Bowers said. “Once that foundation is established, more people will be on the same page. Then this leader will have more time to focus  on other areas in the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Plan, namely diverse talent acquisition and development, campus culture and instructional-educational support.”

They’ll also integrate goals into individual work plans, research and integrate best practices of hiring committees.

“We’re committed to hiring an executive officer for equity, diversity, and inclusion,” Pierce College Fort Steilacoom President Denise Yochum said. “This hiring process will be a national search with an open, competitive process.  Current district employees who meet the qualifications will be eligible to apply.”

Another recommendation suggested by Bowers is for the addition of an equity, diversity and inclusion center.

“We haven’t had the ability to determine the feasibility of this recommendation,” Yochum said.  “This is work the district will do in the coming year as we look at all of the recommendations that were made.”

Bowers’ presentation was recorded and can be viewed through the PierceCollegeDist11 YouTube channel. The video is titled Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Presentation by Tanya Bowers.

Bowers hopes that people received a sense of how significant their voice is.

“I hope that through this process, Pierce stakeholder have seen how critical their contributions have been and that they’re encouraged to continue giving of themselves to ongoing equity, diversity and inclusion efforts,” Bowers said.

The Puyallup Post is the award-winning student news of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2017. Twitter/Instagram @puyalluppost

Grace Amsden
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Grace Amsden

Former Editor-in-Chief at The Puyallup Post
Grace Amsden
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Consultant shares findings from equity and diversity work at Pierce College

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