The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Strategic Initiative, implemented in December 2021, is in full swing. Its goal is to reform the culture and policies of Rollins to make it better equipped to handle an increasingly diverse student body.
“We have chosen to be a more diverse institution,” said President Grant Cornwell regarding the initiative’s origins. “But the past two years have revealed that increasing the diversity of the Rollins community is not enough to reach true equity. We need to do more to really examine Rollins as an institution and figure out what needs to change in order to better fulfill our mission to provide a quality liberal arts education and shape our students to be global citizens.”
The initiative involves five student-led task forces that examine the policies and practices of Rollins through various lenses. These task forces are Student Recruitment and Retention; Faculty and Staff Hiring and Retention; DEI Capacity Building; Institutional Policies, Practices, and Procedures; and DEI in the Academic Program.
Cornwell is the DEI Steering Committee convener. The DEI Strategic Initiative Steering Committee also includes members such as Akheem Mitchell (’23), vice president of the Student Government Association (SGA) and vice president of Rollins Black Student Union (BSU); Alissa Gilliean-Crump, assistant vice president for Student Affairs and Career & Life Planning; and Eric Smaw, CLA professor of Philosophy, among several others (for a full list, see the end of this article).
The idea for the task forces came from Mitchell, who was personally asked by Cornwell to act as the student body’s representative on the DEI Steering Council.
“We decided to do an all-campus email to students across campus to see how many students wanted to be a part of task forces, because student representation is crucial to moving Rollins College in a more progressive direction,” said Mitchell.
The email asked students to rank the issues the task forces are addressing based on how important they were to them personally. The deadline to join the task forces was Feb. 3.
“We didn’t want people who would only use the task forces as a resume builder or a way to promote themselves,” Mitchell said. “We wanted people who were genuinely passionate about the subject and actively working to build a stronger Rollins.”
For Monica Saad (‘22), member of the DEI in the Academic Program task force, the decision to become involved was informed by her personal experiences.
“I spent much of my life attending a predominantly white, Christian private school. During my time there, I was frequently the only person of color in the room and I saw first-hand how educational institutions can fail students from underserved communities,” Saad said. “When I got the email, I knew right away that I wanted to be involved.”
“The Academic Program task force is focused on finding ways to promote DEI in our curriculum,” Saad said. She said that one idea being considered is adding some sort of DEI graduation requirement, so that students at Rollins would have to take a DEI-related course to graduate in the same way they have to take a math course or a physical education course.
“That way every member of the student body would have to grapple with these ideas,” Saad said. “Regardless of the changes we end up implementing, the goal is to make Rollins a better version of itself.”
Guiding topics of the task force, according to the campus-wide email sent by Cornwell in December, included exploring the “changes required to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion at Rollins” and advancing “commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion in all aspects of campus life.”
Arielle Etienne (‘24) and Sendy Sejourne (‘23) were both motivated to volunteer because of their experiences on campus as African American students.
“It can be really isolating to go around campus and not see many people who look like you,” Etienne said, who serves on the Student Recruitment and Retention task force. “I volunteered because I want to make it so that future Rollins students don’t have to go through what I have. That means making a meaningful effort at increasing the diversity of the student body.”
Rollins is 71 percent white, with the remaining 29 percent consisting of various minority groups.
“I think when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion we can’t just brush it off as a race issue,” Sejourne said, who is a member of the Institutional Policies, Practices, and Procedures task force. “The reality is, it is a race and class issue. […] The students hold a variety of identities, and many of them come from lower economic backgrounds. One of the problems with Rollins is the policies that are currently in place. We cannot have staff who want to come work here and stay here without policies that support them. We cannot have students feel welcome and safe living on campus without revisions to our policies.”
The task forces will meet periodically for the rest of the school year, at which point the members will issue an interim report on the issues they have uncovered and their proposed solutions and reforms. The task forces are expected to continue their work after the report is released.
Below is a complete list members on the DEI Strategic Initiative Steering Committee:
Doragnes Bradshaw, director of Operations, Hamilton Holt School; Alissa Gilliean-Crump, assistant vice president for Student Affairs, Career & Life Planning; Matt Hawks, associate vice president, HR & Risk Management; Tracy Kizer, associate professor of Marketing, Crummer Graduate School of Business; Donna Lee, vice president for Student Affairs; Zaire McCoy, dean of Admission and associate vice president of Enrollment; Micki Meyer, Lord Family assistant vice president for Student Affairs, Community; Akheem Mitchell ’23, vice president of SGA, vice president of BSU; Meghal Parikh, director of Institutional Analytics; and Eric Smaw, professor of Philosophy, College of Liberal Arts.