Progressing toward unity: SRU launches Office for Inclusive Excellence

corinne gibson and david wilmes talking with students

Brittany Terry, a student affairs in higher education graduate student from Pittsburgh; Corinne Gibson, director for inclusive excellence; David Wilmes, associate provost for student success; and Aaron Carr, a senior communication: integrated marketing major from Erie, discuss the mission of Slippery Rock University’s rebranded Office for Inclusive Excellence.

Nov. 18, 2016

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Equity and inclusion are institutional priorities that are key to Slippery Rock University's mission of providing a quality education to all of its students.

With ever-increasing growth in the diversity of its student population, the importance of accepting the individual differences in personality, language, learning styles and life experiences - in addition to social differences of race, ethnicity, culture, gender and sexual identities and orientations, politics and religion - are amplified.

To that end, SRU's Office of Multicultural Development is expanding its scope and rebranding itself as the Office for Inclusive Excellence.

According to David Wilmes, associate provost for student success, while the mission of the office will continue to be rooted in creating opportunities for underrepresented students to excel at SRU and beyond, it will also look to offer programs and opportunities designed to create "productive campus citizens who can effectively work with others and bring about positive social change."

David Wilmes

   WILMES

"It's a tall order, but one I believe we are all up for," said Wilmes. "Our goal is to practice inclusive excellence so that it is implemented and accomplished consistently throughout the institution."

The change came about through a two-fold process Wilmes said.

"First, we recognized the evolving nature of our work and that as an office, as a University and as a community, we've gone beyond the historical markers of race and ethnicity as a focus.

"Second, in conversations with our students over the last year, it became evident that they all wanted to ensure that we have a campus that is inclusive to everyone, that welcomes everyone, that ensures that no matter where someone comes from, that there is a place for them.

"If we, as an institution, really want everyone to be successful at SRU, we need to make sure everyone has a place at the table. We have to ask ourselves 'Are we doing enough as an institution to demonstrate inclusion?,' 'Are we doing enough to show the students that this is an inclusive and welcoming environment?,' 'Are we responding to the needs of students when barriers come up and when things come up that don't appear to gel with that mission?'"

Specifically, the Office for Inclusive Excellence will:

  • Provide mentoring and coaching designed to offer academic and social support, build individual capacity and self-efficacy, and connect students to the University community;
  • Expand opportunities for all students to explore and celebrate cultures and identities in a safe and supportive atmosphere; and
  • Give voice to the needs of students while teaching them to be positive advocates for change

"Diversity and inclusion work has really shifted," said Wilmes. "Not just in terms of race, but also the recognition that the most impact that an office like this could have should really be impacting those in the majority. If you're really going to talk about providing inclusive programming that educates people around diversity, race, gender, ethnicity, etc., then you've got to include the folks that wouldn't necessarily be attracted to that by name only, so that they can learn and grow and become connected with those people who may be underrepresented on the campus."

For those that may wonder if the office's change is in name only, think again. Wilmes noted that the University is in the process of hiring additional staff members who will assist in ramping up the efforts and outreach of the office.

The first, an assistant director for multicultural development, will oversee programming, events, workshops, etc. that will explore diversity, race and ethnicity with an eye toward educating others.

The second, an assistant director of transition programs, will look to expand SRU's current Jump Start Program.

The Jump Start program focuses on the recruitment and retention of a diverse student population. The program is designed to serve as a transition program with its primary goal being to assist students with their acclimation to life on campus, both academically and socially. New, first-year students are provided one-to-one development, academic advisement and study skills strengthening/support.

"Traditionally, our programs have focused on students that are underrepresented at the University - whether they are Pell eligible, first-generation students, African-American - whatever it happens to be," said Wilmes. "We want to see the programs expand and impact all students.

"Part of what we we're doing is a philosophical shift, we want to help students to get to know themselves in order to be able to know others in order to work effectively in all facets of life. Our aim is to channel a lot of our energy to barriers that traditionally underrepresented students face and then change those in a positive and productive manner.

"In a nutshell, this office is going to be about broadening the horizons of the students to the work we do. Our hope is that by having a dedicated staff, we can spread our reach and expand the vision and understanding of our students."

The person charged with making all of that happen is Corinne Gibson. The former director for multicultural development couldn't be more excited.

corinne gibson

   GIBSON

"I am really looking forward to providing more education and celebratory awareness to our majority students," said Gibson. "I think that there are many students that are curious, that want to learn more about others; however, they may not have been privy or even knowledgeable about the programs that were going on, so being able to do things that are on a grander scale that will include more collaborative efforts amongst groups will definitely bring more awareness and foster inclusion and understanding.

"Once we bring the new staff on board, I think that you'll see that this office will be able to bring about more conversation amongst the students. We're really looking to have more dialoguing programs and activities that will allow students a space to connect with each other. We really want to challenge them in small group conversations and on a variety of topics."

Among those topics are religion and spirituality, topics Gibson has long wanted to deliver programming on, but has been unable to do so due to previous time constraints and staffing limitations.

"It's exciting to think that we can finally begin implementing a culture shift," said Gibson. "For too long we haven't been able to bring these areas to the table. We want to help students identify with the cultures that their community members are from, regardless of where that is, and what backgrounds they have and look at how that all comes together not only in western Pennsylvania, but far beyond."

Despite the newness of the office's name, staffing flux and focus, Wilmes already has a vision for the future.

"Our students are comprised of a variety of identities and facets that make up who and what they are but sometimes don't know what to do with that. They need to learn about that just as much as they do about their major.

"Having students really grapple with the complexities of identity and thinking about what that means for their abilities to navigate the world effectively ... and to learn to live and work with all different types of people should be at the core of what we do.

"My hope is that two or three years from now, SRU is this place where students are having deep, reflective experiences about themselves and others. Then, they can make a real difference. Not only for themselves, but for others as well."

MEDIA CONTACT: Robb King | 724.738.2199 | robert.king@sru.edu