In response to the need for Duke’s administrative leaders and staff to understand and analyze the available findings from the university-wide survey on diversity, equity, and inclusion, the Office for Institutional equity hosted a day-long retreat in February. During the meeting, participants began developing action plans to advance their respective units. The discussions centered on many data trends from the survey, which revealed the significance of personal experiences, the necessity to establish more equitable hiring and retention policies, and the call for Duke’s leadership to cultivate trust and strengthen infrastructure by empowering staff.
President Vincent Price stressed the importance of overcoming inequities at Duke, and as a society, and called for staff leadership to “lead from the top” and recognized the value of the lived experiences brought by Duke’s community. “We need your informal and formal initiatives with the goal of promoting equity,” he told the audience. He encouraged openness in considering new ideas and requested that participants hear what the community is saying. He asked the group to “share best practices and keep lines of communication open and across units – there is so much we can learn from each other and move toward specific objectives and measure our progress.”
Vice provost for faculty advancement, Abbas Benmamoun, offered insight and advice based on the January retreat Faculty Affairs hosted for academic leaders. He highlighted the importance of developing genuine partnerships with faculty, students, and staff. “The University’s staff are full partners – it is not just faculty and students,” he said. He also noted the significant role personal experiences play and how it is crucial to identify with those experiences, especially in terms of equitable hiring practices. Actions should be based on evidence and research, but there is also room to embrace vulnerability. “There is a crucial need for honest and deep conversation,” he continued. Duke’s leadership is called to cultivate trust, but fluency is needed in this area to be empowered to make changes and develop the skills to start difficult conversations. He finished his summary by calling leaders to empower staff to do the work and give them the necessary agency and support they need. “We must signal our support. We often leave it up to them. This work is key to empower.”
Climate means different things to people in their personal space and work units. Sherilynn Black, associate vice provost for faculty advancement, framed her remarks on this and challenged the audience to ask themselves if they feel equipped to lead the topic of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). When confronted with inequities, she noted that data from the survey showed that most respondents (80%) don’t feel equipped to handle DEI topics. She worked with retreat participants to contextualize the data. “There are perspectives about who should be in positions of power here. Most underrepresented staff in non-exempt [roles] do NOT feel satisfied at Duke. Let the data tell us what is going on,” she said.
To assist Duke units with developing DEI plans, Leigh-Anne Royster, assistant vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion, introduced a Diversity Plan Assessment Rubric. The tool is meant to be used by units as a guide to support DEI work and its integration by helping teams to envision their units as an ecology. The rubric places racial equity work at the center of DEI efforts by prompting examination of infrastructure and resources, identifying strengths and gaps, and helping create a community network with sharing opportunities between units.
Representing the Racial Equity Advisory Council (REAC), Keisha Williams, assistant vice president for learning & organization development, and Antwan Lofton, assistant vice president for staff & labor relations, announced the introduction of a Staff Action Planning Group that will look at department trends, track promotions, identify resources, provide cross-training, allocate budget funding into opportunities for staff development, communication support to highlight the work done and available opportunities, facilitate reorganizations, and examine job descriptions that may need updates. "HR will have a very intentional touch in this space with the intent to meet teams and units where they are currently in developing next steps and understanding their data," said Williams and she continued by stating, "We want to thread a needle of consistency throughout all of our process and procedures in the work that we currently do and the work that we will pursue in the future, it is important for this not to be perceived as just another initiative or thing to do, but to be intentionally embedded in how we strategically work across our enterprise."*
The retreat also included a panel on connecting the data to impact lived experience moderated by Kimberly Hewitt, vice president of institutional equity with Leigh-Anne Royster, J. Spenser Darden, assistant dean for diversity and inclusion of the Sanford School of Public Policy, and Shruti Desai, associate vice president of student affairs. The retreat ended with closing remarks by Executive Vice President Daniel Ennis.
By Maria Moreno
*Correction & Clarification: An earlier version of this story contained a misstated quote by Keisha Williams. (March 21, 2022)