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Inclusion in Action: Reflections from Floyd Cheung, April 2020

In April 2019, I attended our day of learning called Inclusion in Action and heard many student groups speak fiercely about what they needed in order to thrive at Smith. At the time, I listened as a highly engaged faculty member but not as a dedicated administrator. In April 2020, I find myself in the tenth month of fulfilling my role as the vice president for equity and inclusion. How much can change in a year!

I am grateful to the many students, staff and faculty who have worked so hard on advancing the ideals of Inclusion in Action, even in the midst of COVID-19. A summer working group reviewed survey data from April 10 as well as the spring 2019 student demands, ultimately charging five Action Teams to imagine ways to advance equity and inclusion in the following thematic areas: education, identity, communication, engagement and justice. Members of these teams helped to choose recipients of Innovation Challenge Grants, a program that supports equity and inclusion initiatives and is generously funded by President McCartney. Each Action Team went on to study its area of need and sought the input of  the community in various ways. In this virtual update, all five Action Teams share their findings and make recommendations that will inform the strategic plan for advancing equity and inclusion at Smith College.

Some ideas have already borne fruit. One Innovation Challenge Grant funded four student, staff and faculty book discussions of So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo. Such book discussions are now being continued by the Office for Equity and Inclusion. Most recently, a group of us talked about Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. Another Innovation Challenge Grant funded a crafting-for-community project, which, in light of COVID-19 needs, has produced hundreds of face masks that will be donated to the City of Northampton for anyone who needs them.

The Action Teams had very little time this spring before the pandemic forced us to scatter, but they accomplished a great deal. Thanks to their work, we know that our community values informal and spontaneous opportunities to engage across difference; that many students would find useful a universal pathway for requesting basic-need assistance; that we should consider holding a spring equity and inclusion event to build on Cromwell Day’s fall momentum; that the Office for Equity and Inclusion should develop a frequently-asked-question engine; and that as a community, we need to define what justice means to us.

In spite of—or perhaps more accurately, as a consequence of—our present situation, advancing equity and inclusion is more important than ever. Some disparities that existed on campus are magnified when we are dispersed. Health and employment inequities are more evident. And the economic downturn affects the vulnerable among us most severely. Hence, I call for us to renew our commitment to Inclusion in Action. Let’s make “we’re all in this together” a reality.

Floyd Cheung
Vice President for Equity and Inclusion