Launching the New 2022-2023 Academic Year:
Promoting Equity, Access, & Belonging!
What are YOU doing to promote
Equity, Access, and Belonging?
Now that fall semester has started, our last summer hurrah with Labor Day is in the rearview mirror, and football season has kicked off… we’re all settling down to the new 2022-2023 Academic Year! As we plan and execute our work at our own institutions, this is a great time to take our 2022 ACHE Annual Conference theme to heart and examine what we are doing to truly promote Equity, Access, and Belonging at our respective institutions.
As you read through this article and prepare for the academic year and our annual conference, ask yourself the key question, “What am I doing to promote equity, access, and belonging at my institution… and beyond???” As I ask each of you this question, I must first ask myself the same question! Let’s first review the simple definitions of each of these three key words, then we’ll look at examples from the institution I serve, the University of South Carolina Palmetto College, and each of you can think about examples from your own institutions. Then we’ll look at opportunities to learn more about each of these three key areas at our upcoming Annual Conference, and finally think about many of the celebrations we have throughout the year to focus on these themes… with the ultimate goal of infusing Inclusive Excellence as a core value in all we do!
First, let’s review the simple definitions of equity, access, and belonging. According to Miriam-Webster, each word is defined as follows.
- Equity – “Justice according to natural law or right, specifically: freedom from bias or favoritism.”
- Access – “To be able to use, enter, or get near (something).”
- Belonging – “Close or intimate relationship.”
As I examine what we are doing here at the University of South Carolina Palmetto College to address each of these key themes (and what I am doing as the Chancellor to make sure these themes are top priorities!), I’ll share an example for each below. As you learn about our Palmetto College examples, please answer the question of, “What am I doing to promote equity, access, and belonging at my institution….and beyond???”
Equity – In an effort to improve equity in faculty and staff salaries across USC Palmetto College, as Chancellor I commissioned a USC Palmetto College Campuses Salary Study in 2018-2019 that focused on salary equity for both faculty and staff. A Palmetto College-wide committee was appointed with 12 representatives from faculty, staff, and administration to study the issue, and the work was led by an external consultant from another USC institution who was well-versed in policies and procedures for both the University of South Carolina System and the State of South Carolina. The recommendations of the study are being implemented over a five-year period as we continue to address this most important issue of salary equity for both faculty and staff.
Access – Providing access to education across the entire state of South Carolina was the very foundation of the establishment of USC Palmetto College in 2013 to serve the entire Palmetto State. With a $5 million appropriation and bi-partisan support from the South Carolina General Assembly, Palmetto College was established to include the four two-year regional Palmetto College Campuses with ten locations across the state, coupled with online bachelor’s degree completion programs… thus providing access to USC degrees for the entire state with the combination of brick-and-mortar institutions and online degree programs.
Belonging – The USC Palmetto College of USC Lancaster is located near the Catawba Nation and has had a very close and intimate relationship with the Catawba people for many years. In 2013, USCL had the opportunity to establish a Native American Studies Center on Main Street in Lancaster, S.C., that has created an even stronger sense of belonging for our Native American communities not only near USC Lancaster but also for many other Native American communities across the state as scholars and tribal leaders continue to work together and emphasize the sense of belonging for all people.
Finally, one of our top priorities this year in Palmetto College is to infuse Inclusive Excellence as a Core Value for our entire organization through our new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Council. Each Palmetto College Campus has established a Council, and those institutional Councils feed into the Palmetto College-wide Council, led by the Dean of Palmetto College Columbia. Our Palmetto College DEI Council then aligns with the work of the entire University of South Carolina DEI Council… resulting in the emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion across the entire System.
These are simply three examples and an overarching Core Value from USC Palmetto College as a starting point for the conversation, and I challenge each of you (along with myself) to look for three specific additional opportunities that we can all take away from the annual conference for implementation at our institutions.
Topics for the accepted proposals that we can learn from include, but are not limited to the following:
- Innovative Change Agents: Inventive and new programs, processes, departments, courses, assessments, services, etc. that cultivate an opportunity for underrepresented populations for provided pathways and access toward degree completion; how departments/institutions have been change agents to foster an ecosystem that intentionally seeks to ensure all students feel a sense of belonging; and budget models, tuition strategies, grants, etc. that are utilized to fund these programs to be sustainable today, tomorrow and into the future;
- Collaborative Partners: Best practices in establishing collaborative partnerships to assist with developing educational opportunities; roles and responsibilities of the department/institution in partnerships; examples of successful program/institution and partnership collaboration outcomes; and creative collaborative partnerships that support underrepresented populations with an opportunity to access learning. Collaborative partnerships are critical in contributing toward the financial need of students today, tomorrow and into the future, providing a strong foundation for equity and access.
- Strategic Initiatives: Innovative strategic initiatives that intentionally focus on equity, access and belonging, ranging from implementation of new professional development for faculty, professional staff and/or students, creation of DEIB statements, utilizing assessment tools to analyze DEI and student success; inclusive excellence -- what it is and how it helps to achieve DEIB; technology that supports equity, access, and collaboration across departments that impacts student success; showcasing how departments/institutions are focusing on equity, access and belonging to enhance continuing education today, tomorrow and into the future and, more importantly, resulting in an enhanced underrepresented student experience, learning outcomes and student retention.
Themes woven throughout the sessions include and emphasize:
- Students Services
- Professional Development
- Workforce Development, Degree Completion, Certificates, Stackable Credentials & Non-Credit
- Prior Learning Assessment
- The Student Experience
Many opportunities present themselves throughout the year to emphasize equity, access, and belonging. This year, in particular, marks an opportunity to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Title IX and the Higher Education Amendments Act of 1972. In addition to this observance, other evergreen DEIB celebrations and opportunities include but are certainly not limited to the following:
- Black History Month (February)
- Women’s History Month (March)
- National Single Parent Day (March 21)
- National Arab American Heritage Month (April)
- Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (May)
- LGBT Pride Month (June)
- Adult Learners Week (September)
- National Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15)
- Native American Heritage Month (November)
- First-Generation College Celebration (November 8)
Beyond these celebrations, we can always look toward celebrating our students everyday through the work, advocacy and support of (1) First Generation College Students Organizations, (2) Adult Student Organizations, and (3) honor societies like Alpha Sigma Lambda that recognize the academic achievements of adult learners.
In conclusion, what will YOU do today, tomorrow and into the future to promote equity, access, and belonging at your institution and in all that you do throughout this new academic year and in the future??? We look so forward to having each of you join us for our 2022 ACHE Annual Conference in New Orleans from Oct. 24-26, 2022, to learn more from our conference keynote addresses, concurrent sessions, and from networking with your outstanding colleagues from around the country and across the globe!