ODI Efforts to Foster Safe, Supportive, Inclusive Environment

To: University of Connecticut Community
From: Office for Diversity and Inclusion
Regarding: Update on ODI Efforts at UConn
Date: March 25, 2022

Since the return to in-person learning, the University of Connecticut has received a number of bias referrals detailing incidents of harassment and violence based on disability, ethnicity, gender, nationality, race, religion, and sexual orientation. These harmful incidents are antithetical to UConn’s values as an institution and negatively impact community members’ overall sense of belonging, safety, and security. In light of this, the Office for Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) is providing an update on efforts that the central office and seven cultural centers and programs have been involved in for the 2021-2022 academic year.

ODI’s mission is to lead the University’s efforts at making UConn a more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and just institution. ODI leads these efforts by advocating for access and equity across all units and focusing on strategic planning and programming to frame and meet diversity and inclusion initiatives. In the collective pursuit of these goals, ODI collaborates with a variety of campus partners to foster a safe, inclusive, and affirming university environment. When a bias-related incident threatens that safe, inclusive, and affirming environment for our students, ODI collaborates on the institutional response by participating on the Incident Response Team, which meets regularly to address bias incidents and provide support to impacted individuals and groups within the UConn community.  ODI’s main role in bias incidents is to support students and employees impacted directly by harmful incidents, especially members of historically marginalized groups. In order for ODI to offer the most effective support – including advice about navigating the University’s protocols for investigation – ODI does not conduct the investigation of bias incidents. Instead, those investigations are handled by Community Standards if the incident involves a student Respondent or the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) if the incident involves an employee Respondent.

ODI endeavors to facilitate a safe, affirming, supportive institutional environment by working with colleagues across the University on communication and transparency, institutional responses and outreach, and educational and training initiatives. Please see below a brief summary of those collaborative efforts:

  1. Communication and Transparency
    1. ODI supports development and promotion of the InForm website, which provides pertinent information about navigating the reporting process, as well as access to appropriate resources for support.
    2. The Dean of Students office makes bias reporting transparent by sharing information with ODI and the community through communications and annual bias incident summaries and reports.
    3. ODI collaborates with the Dean of Students on a Bias Action Group. This group of students and staff are committed to understanding, responding, and educating the UConn community on issues of bias and meet every semester to review bias data, identify trends and concerns, and create programming and messaging that addresses the bias-related issues in the community.
    4. At the beginning of each semester, Chief Diversity Officer Frank Tuitt, along with Dean of Students Eleanor Daugherty, emails to the student body assessments of incidents reported that semester.
    5. ODI creates and disseminates messaging about the need to improve campus climate through official statements.
    6. ODI supports the Higher Education Anti-Racism Teaching (HEART) podcast to provide faculty and staff with advice about anti-racist teaching and its challenges.
    7. ODI uses social media platforms to educate the UConn community about events and opportunities that support the University’s diversity mission, to point to helpful resources, and to celebrate the various cultures represented in the university community.
    8. ODI writes and disseminates a newsletter each semester to outlines the work done by the central office, the cultural centers and programs, and institutional partners.
    9. ODI maintains the university-wide Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice website, using it as a platform to post events, house DEIJ-related resources, provide access to resources for safety and wellness, promote DEIJ-related training, and disseminate official statements from UConn leadership.
  2. Institutional Response and Outreach
    1. ODI works with the Provost’s Office to provide consultations and support to academic units when incidents involving students occur but are not code violations. In 2021-2022, ODI have worked with the Provost’s Office, as well as with student groups, to disseminate a religious observations calendar.
    2. The Cultural Centers coordinate with SHaW and affinity groups to provide safe spaces for impacted communities to receive support and resources. This year, ODI opened an ODI Commons in the Student Union that will serve as an intersectional space to facilitate discussions between communities.
    3. ODI expanded resources for Middle Eastern, Native and Indigenous, and Undocumented students in an effort to provide their communities with more services and greater support.
    4. ODI participates in the Incident Response Forum along with the Incident Response Team (IRT), Cultural Center directors, student leaders, and representatives from the Provost’s Office and affinity groups. This group reviews incidents and interrogates the University’s programmatic and educational response.
    5. ODI has added new staff positions to bolster outreach efforts, including the UConn Health CDO/VP, a Program Coordinator for the Rainbow Center, and an Assistant Director for the Asian American Cultural Center. The office is searching to fill other positions and is proposing adding others.
    6. The University Access, Inclusion, and Success Network was formed to structurally enhance access, inclusion (sense of belonging), and success for historically marginalized student populations at UConn.
    7. ODI is partnering with Hillel International on a Campus Climate Initiative (CCI). While aimed specifically at improving the climate for Jewish students at UConn, ODI believes these efforts will improve the climate for all affinity-based groups.
    8. ODI is building its capacity to serve the Jewish community and address antisemitism by participating in the Academic Engagement Network’s (AEN) Signature Seminar Series, which brings together university and college administrators to discuss and develop strategies for bias incidents. Participating in this series will help ODI build its capacity to serve all students.
    9. ODI staff serve on several working groups to help direct University efforts in improving safety for our underrepresented students:
      1. The African American Cultural Center (AACC) and Native American Cultural Programs (NACP) serve on working groups to address the needs of Black and Indigenous Graduate Students.
      2. CDO Frank Tuitt, along with Vice President for Enrollment Planning & Management Nathan Fuerst and Associate Dean of Student Maureen Armstrong, participates in the Undocumented Student Advisory Board. Central office also collaborates with Associate Dean Armstrong and the Puerto Rican and Latin American Cultural Center (PRLACC) in advising undocumented students and their families.
      3. The Asian American Cultural Center and Salaam are working to combat islamophobia.
      4. Central Office is working with John Armstrong, Director of Off-Campus and Commuter Student Services, and Edina Oestreicher, Executive Director of UConn Hillel, to address antisemitism on campus and improve the cultural climate for Jewish members of the UConn community.
    10. ODI leads Faculty and Staff of Color Town Halls provide a safe space for Faculty and Staff of Color to express race-based concerns and collaboratively propose institutional solutions.
    11. ODI partnered with Alumni Relations and the Center for Career Development to launch the Students of Color (SoC) Mentorship Program – partnering 50 to 100 students of color with alumni of color who share the experience of navigating the challenges of being a student of color in a predominately white major at a Predominately White Institution (PWI).
        1. Education and Training
          1. ODI supported the development of three 1-credit pop-up courses that educate students on racism: an Anti-Black Racism course, an Anti-Asian Racism course, and a course on Antisemitism.
          2. ODI put on a 2-day event on creating a safe and supportive UConn community. This event educated faculty and staff on the mechanisms, procedures, and structures for reporting bias incidents. It also informed them of their rights and responsibilities and connected them with the work done by various units across the UConn system.
          3. ODI has provided antiracism training, as well as restorative practices for addressing the hurt and harm caused by bias and discrimination, to senior leadership and middle management. This year, ODI brought in Bryan Brayboy to train leadership on creating Indigenous spaces in higher education. The next training will be on improving institutional environments for Jewish students.
          4. ODI provides unconscious bias training to academic and administrative units.
          5. ODI has provided social identity awareness training to students in First-Year Experience classes and Greek organizations at UConn.
          6. ODI assists faculty and staff in attending university-sponsored DEIJ professional development opportunities.
          7. ODI has provided faculty and staff with training on serving and advising Undocumented students.
          8. ODI has assisted efforts to create inclusive learning environments, including by diversifying hiring efforts and recruiting, hiring, and retaining faculty and staff from underrepresented backgrounds.
          9. ODI is partnering with the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) and the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) to revise the homegrown and UConn-focused Diversity Awareness Training (DAT) required for all new employees and graduate students within six months of hire.

        ODI recognizes that there is still much work to be done in order to improve safety and security at UConn, as well as to eliminate all incidents of bias. However, ODI believes that collaborative efforts thus far are strengthening the infrastructure UConn needs in order to achieve these goals. To see more information about ODI’s efforts and resources, please visit our events page at www.diversity.uconn.edu/events.