When Dr. Chiquita Howard-Bostic was asked by the Shepherd University Board of Governors to lead the Office for Diversity and Equity last summer, she leapt at the opportunity.
Dr. Howard-Bostic serves multiple roles on campus, teaching 12 sociology classes over the spring, summer, and fall semesters, as well as chairing the Department of Sociology, Criminology, and Criminal Justice. In her latest role as the Associate Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity, she discusses the department’s impact and looks to the future.
“Shepherd has for years done a fantastic job providing basic information and in-depth engagements that create meaningful conversation around diversity, equity, and inclusivity for students,” she said.
The opportunities for learning have been extensive and varied. However, something was needed to build a cohesive vision.
“This position was created as a way to pull all of these different campus groups together,” she said. “Multicultural Student Affairs, Accessibility Services, Title IX, International Affairs, Study Abroad, etcetera – all of those groups are now inclusively engaged in Shepherd University’s strategic plan, and they’re a part of this unified culture of growth and movement.”
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity: Learning Terms
Understanding terms is necessary to get a complete impression of how an organization defines itself and what it might undergo.
So, Dr. Howard-Bostic elaborated.
“Diversity is about the number of people from various backgrounds involved in a community or institution. It’s the number of ideas present at the table,” she said. “That focus is about difference.”
Dr. Howard-Bostic said diversity by itself, though, is not enough for different beliefs to flourish collectively. Inclusivity is the other side of diversity, pulling those disparate identities together.
“This is about how those differences can lead to creativity,” she said. “The sense of belonging is established by creating activities where ideas can be engaged and absorbed, and hopefully incorporated into our understanding for the future.”
Dr. Howard-Bostic also emphasized the important difference between equity and equality. Where equality is allowing everyone the same resources, she said equity is “examining processes that create opportunities for similar outcomes.”
She also pulls from the work of French sociologist Émile Durkheim, who joins the ideas of personal, internal and social, external characteristics that affect daily life.
“We have unique qualities that allow us to achieve status and esteem through our hard work and our energy,” Dr. Howard-Bostic said. “However, Durkheim understands that there are certain external sets of perspectives that allow people and groups to define us in ways that can prevent our hard work from becoming successful.”
Merging these ideas informs the central goal of the office – removing barriers so campus groups can work more collaboratively and visibly to build a culture of respect and a community of civility.
From Exposure to Understanding
Some people are exposed to these ideas early, Dr. Howard-Bostic said.
There are ways, though, to participate for those who haven’t experienced many identities outside of their own.
“The Office for Diversity and Equity is responsible for putting together trainings, which are built with other departments to make them interdisciplinary,” she said. “Mandatory trainings to address this lack of exposure are what we need to help us develop and remain a respectful community.”
Title IX Coordinator and Director for Social Equity, Inclusion, and Title IX, Annie Lewin, has utilized this strategy to build the Employee Respect Course, a required exercise for all employees.
This course, shaped from the Violence Against Women Act, strengthens an “equitable, inclusive, and respectful campus culture and environment, free from any form of harassment, discrimination, or violence to ensure a safe and welcoming living, learning, and working environment for all students and employees.”
Further, the Office for Diversity and Equity created an accountability structure with the Shepherd University Civility Code, the first of its kind on campus.
This code establishes the healthiest and most appropriate manners of interpersonal communication on campus. If someone breaches the civility code, steps are taken to address the violation and correct the behavior.
From Understanding to Participation
Shepherd University has always encouraged diverse community exchange, like the Rams Rally for Respect, an annual anti-violence, anti-discrimination march.
But now there are institutional tools for building diversity and equity.
The WISE (Wisdom Inspires Student Excellence) Mentoring Program is a grant-funded program launched in the fall of 2020, the goal of which is to “boost the academic achievement of minority students in ways that empower them as prepared students and futures mentors and advocates for social change.”
The Office for Diversity and Equity recently secured two $5,000 grants for WISE to provide trauma-informed mental healthcare for marginalized populations in the Shepherd community.
Dr. Howard-Bostic said there is another grant-funded initiative, the Challenge Grant.
“This grant, which is funded by the President’s Club, allows student groups to partner and receive financial support to craft community-based activities and initiatives,” she said.
Two projects have already started.
Partnering with Tabler Farm, Shepherd’s off-campus organic farm, students are creating a trauma-informed nutrition program, which will include a food pantry.
Students are also working on a clothing pantry with similar goals in mind.
The Future of the ODE
Dr. Howard-Bostic is energetic about the work the Office for Diversity and Equity has accomplished in its first year.
Her excitement abounds as new ideas and initiatives emerge.
One of these is the Model for Tracking Diversity program, which is based upon themed student groups.
The MTD will examine university processes that may more adversely affect students from marginalized backgrounds and create mechanisms to remove barriers to success, like holds on student accounts.
The goal is to positively reinforce recruitment, enrollment, and retention.
With the help of Vice President for Enrollment, Dr. Kelly Hart, international students have been the first group identified for diversity tracking.
You can sense Dr. Howard-Bostic’s pride for Shepherd University and the enthusiasm of her ideas as she speaks them.
The prospect of the future energizes her.
“We want to allow people to feel comfortable on this campus,” she said. “This is hard work. It’s not easy. We’re trying to encourage justice.”
To learn more about the Office for Diversity and Equity, visit www.shepherd.edu/diversity-office