Twenty UW Tacoma administrators recently participated in an eight week equity institute through the University of Southern California Race & Equity Center.

Chancellor Mark Pagano, five vice chancellors, three assistant chancellors, seven deans and directors, two faculty leaders and three members from academic human resources completed the program in early March.

The purpose of program was to discuss race and equity — topics that higher education leadership don’t receive formal training in.  

The idea to bring the USC initiative to the UWT campus was introduced at a conference to Dr. Jill Purdy, and seeing an opportunity for good professional development for campus leadership, applied to be a part of the program with the help of Dr. James McShay, the vice chancellor for equity and inclusion.

“One of the things that we wanted to do was to help our campus leadership engage in some high level thinking and engagement around how do you work to create a institutional environment that can promote the success of all of its members,’ McShay said. “We wanted to make sure that our leaders have the capacity to attend to issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion within their areas of oversight.”

The race and equity center was founded at USC in 2011 by Dr. Shaun Harper — the center’s executive director and a professor at USC. UWT paid $15,000 to join 10 other institutions including public, private and two-year colleges.

Before participating, McShay and Purdy put together a steering committee to plan the institute so that the work would continue after the training. The committee selected modules according to how they matched UWT’s impact goals of culture and equity — part of the “Charting Our Course” strategic plan.

The group met as a leadership team on Fridays from 9:30–11 a.m. and participated in eight different lessons that covered topics such as how to talk about race, racism and racial inequalities, how to have productive conversations about race in classroom settings and learning how to navigate the defensive emotions of campus racial conflict. The courses were taught by eight different faculty members from various universities around the country.

“‘How do you create an environment in your classroom that’s civil [and] productive?’ …, “ Pagano asked. “It’s a topic that very quickly can get people’s emotions up and if you’re not prepared to talk about it, it doesn’t matter what gender or … what race you are. It can be very uncomfortable.”

Over eight weeks, participants were expected to complete pre-work readings, participate in discussions and complete homework assignments. If members of the group couldn’t be present, they would still be able to participate through Zoom.

“About halfway through, something interesting happened,” Pagano said. “The group started maturing in this interaction with each other a little more and we wanted more time to interact as a group instead of sit[ing] there and listen[ing] to the instructor.”

UWT leaders soon decided to add more discussion time into their lessons and also selected case studies from the UWT campus that related to the module into these discussions.

“That really made the learning real,” Pagano said. “Because it’s one thing for a professor to tell you stuff and another thing to tell you about stuff and present a real world sample and then let you use what you just learned to try to talk through solutions.”

After the institute ended, the steering committee organized each of the 20 participants into smaller leadership clusters and each group got to discuss what they took away from participating in the institute, what they needed more of given their goals for participating and ways that they could receive support to continue to their own growth and development.

“One of the things that I wanted to make sure we didn’t do was just to attend and then be done,” Pagano said. “So what I hoped by investing that much time with all the key leaders, hearing the same information, talking through the same issues, being essentially on the same page with this, I didn’t want it to stop when the institute was done to carry it forward.”

As the small groups have met together, they have formulated recommendations about how the campus can move forward in the summer and coming academic year, and will then decide as a team what they can do to take the momentum from the training and make UWT a better, more equitable campus.

These recommendations will be presented at an upcoming chancellor’s cabinet meeting and the next steps include designing a formal leadership development program that will allow the leadership to train other departments, organizations and staff at UWT.

“We want similar experiences made available to members of the campus community that work with their own units,” McShay said. “Part of this is having the leadership team continue to lead and have that team figure out how they [can] take their staff through a similar process.”

Leticia Bennett
Leticia Bennett

Leticia is the News Editor for The Ledger. She is a Senior majoring an Urban Studies and hopes to become an Urban Planner. She is interested in all things happening around campus and loves to learn new things and meet new people.

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