Ohio University’s creation of an inclusive excellence strategic plan involved several student organizations on campus that believe the plan is not doing enough to address inclusion at OU.
In 2019, OU hosted the inaugural Diversity Leadership Institute to receive feedback on developing a framework for the Diversity and Inclusion strategic plan. Over the past two years, students, faculty, staff and alumni worked to create a plan based on the collective feedback.
During the April 2021 Board of Trustees meeting, the action items of the inclusive excellence strategic plan were presented, according to the plan. This plan includes on-going and intermediate items related to diversity, inclusion and equity with proposed due dates, areas of focus and units responsible.
“Through the goals of the inclusive excellence strategic plan, it is my hope that we will strengthen our culture so everyone in our community feels a sense of belonging,” OU President Duane Nellis said in a university press release. “While honest conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion may be difficult, the need for direct, active, and honest attention to equity, inclusivity, and diversity is as urgent today as ever.”
Prior to this presentation, there were over 30 sessions campus-wide with campus constituencies. According to the plan, the conversations were intended to ensure that many voices could provide feedback on OU’s strategic goals and action items.
Betty Miller, a senior studying political science pre-law, was one of the students providing feedback due to her involvement as the president of the Black Student Organization Coalition as well as the co-president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or the NAACP at OU.
Miller and NAACP at OU approached the university in order to be involved. The organization was sent a link with a short strategic plan created by the university, Miller said. In response, the members of the organization began researching different universities' strategic plans and built a presentation with insights on the plan provided to them.
“We offered about 20 different solutions … they were very defensive about our solutions to their issues,” Miller said. “They said that they included everything that we presented to them in their plan, and I've only noticed two things that we presented that is actually in here, which is the Diversity Advisory Council and the Campus Climate Survey.”
University spokesperson Carly Leatherwood said many of the ideas heard from the NAACP at OU and the Black faculty group have informed the 2021 action items.
“While we are disappointed to hear feedback that (the NAACP at OU) feel their contributions were overlooked in the inclusive excellence strategic plan, University leadership welcomes the opportunity to meet to hear their concerns and encourages their continued participation as we work to implement action items toward our goals for the coming year,” Leatherwood said.
Leatherwood also said anyone in the campus community is able to provide feedback on the plan through a form.
Still, Miller said the plan is awful, and other members of NAACP at OU share her sentiment. After reviewing the strategic plans of other universities, Miller believes that OU’s plan is inferior.
“It's just very vague,” Miller said. “It doesn't even touch about how they're going to continue or build off of the current diversity programs that we have on campus … it’s just a lot of fluff — no details about how they’re going to get this stuff done.”
The actions of the university in creation of this strategic plan reminded Miller of the Black Student Organization Coalition’s frustrations with the Visible Campaign. According to a previous Post report, the campaign’s goal is to express diversity and inclusion values throughout OU.
“That's not going to work because the majority of experiences at OU have not really been good … the only support I've really had is from the Black students, or Black faculty,” Miller said. “We want real systemic change, but we didn't get that. We got the Visible Campaign.”
Jake Boyk, a junior studying communication studies and integrated media, expressed similar concerns to Miller. After OU’s Chinese Learners Association anti-hate rally, Boyk began the process of co-founding the Asian-American Pacific Islander Student Union, or the AAPISU.
“I felt the urge that I needed to speak out because I guess when it comes to racism, nobody wants to speak out,” Boyk said. “I think every person of color here realizes that we, statistically, are a predominately white organization, and that culture is very visible.”
In regard to the strategic plan, Boyk believes it is aimed for a caucasian audience, but his thoughts mostly regard the lack of training he thinks the faculty will receive in addressing those huge cultural issues. Boyk pointed to his experience as a former Learning Community leader to inform this conclusion.
“One of the assignments that this faculty member gave to all the incoming freshmen students was an assignment about race and about anti-racism,” Boyk said. “The assignment was literally, quoted word for word, was to go up to a person of color and ask them about their experiences with racism … that assignment is based off of the idea that we are allowed to judge character based on what we can physically see. I've seen that a lot with professors here, especially students … that's why there's so much segregation within the OU community as well.”
OU’s Student Senate was also involved in discussion of the inclusive excellence strategic plan. Student Senate Vice President Elizabeth Lilly, a senior studying communications studies, shared Miller and Boyk’s opinions.
“Ohio University really brands itself as being a really diverse and inclusive school … but at the end of the day, we need our students to reflect, and we need our campus to reflect, what we are, what our goals are and what we want our campus to look like,” Lilly said. “And right now, our campus doesn't look and it doesn't feel as diverse as we'd like it to.”