As Eckerd celebrates Black History Month, we look at important issues in the Eckerd community regarding diversity and inclusion. Eckerd College’s Diversity Action Council (DAC) is working on projects that are attempting to improve all aspects of the college’s strides toward inclusion, equity and diversity.
Morgan Harthorne, coordinator of Diversity and Inclusion programs, is taking a lead role in helping the DAC succeed.
“We need to get comfortable with getting uncomfortable,” said Harthorne in regards to members of the Eckerd community who are curious about the school’s ability to encourage more diversity and inclusion.
Eckerd’s Diversity Action Council was established in 2019 after a Diversity Task Force released a detailed report in 2018 regarding colleges that are succeeding in encouraging diversity. Schools that found success, such as Dartmouth University and Lewis and Clark College, were found to have a committee whose sole purpose is to work on the institution's ability to nurture diversity and accessibility of all groups and inclusion within the school’s society.
According to the description located on the Eckerd College Diversity and Inclusion page, “The DAC, supports Eckerd’s institutional mission by working to understand and implement measures that create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive campus environment.”
The page goes on to speak of the different exercises the council goes through to maximize their effectiveness in being stewards of diversity, such as increasing their knowledge of common microaggressions and safe zone training.
The council, made up of nine faculty and staff including Harthorne, is also currently working toward encouraging a larger observance and understanding of events such as Black History Month, Pride Week and Hispanic Heritage Month.
Other members of the DAC include but are not limited to Robbyn Hopewell, Bianca Hernandez, Olivia London, Jaqueline MacNiel, Tammy Marshall, Professor Lisa R. Miller and Kyla Smith.
Specific subcommittees around communication, faculty and staff professional development and the experiences of students were all created by the DAC. Their purpose: to address different aspects of diversity and inclusion at Eckerd. Some examples include better education on LGBTQ+ issues, creating a better system of dealing with issues of racism within our community and a stronger awareness of the disabled community.
Like most other aspects of Eckerd College, however, the work the DAC was putting into new projects and events had to be put on halt when the COVID-19 pandemic caused Eckerd to go virtual in March 2020. The shifting of a new college president also led to a reimagining of the work being done at the college with renewed priorities such as improved diversity and inclusion on campus.
Yet the Diversity Action Council continued their work through Zoom calls or socially-distanced talks that routinely drew in 80 or more employees. The meetings purposes are to educate about all manner of topics such as implicit bias, inclusive language and race-based trauma.
Current projects also include further development with the student body to bridge the gap between different demographic groups on campus. The council’s main idea is to encourage more students to take the helm of leading Student Experience events and figuring out what issues need to be addressed.
“You live here, you experience the community in a different way than we do obviously…we want you to bring your ideas,” Harthorne said.
Harthorne went on to say how the council wishes to see student leaders accept the responsibility of such a task to better identify what aspects of community, such as inclusive language or more accessibility to others, can be improved at Eckerd.
With not even two years under its belt and already surviving a pandemic shutdown and a shifting of administrations, Harthorne is optimistic for the future of the Diversity Action Council. She hopes it will continue to grow and gain more support from the school community, citing wishes of seeing more representation of all groups including the disabled, more inclusive infrastructure, and consistent training for all faculty and staff regarding diversity and inclusion.
“We [the Diversity Action Council] are listening. I see real and meaningful signs that Eckerd is beginning to think about and act on diversity, equity and inclusion goals and I'm excited to see where we will be at in a few years,” Co-chair of the Diversity Action Council and animal studies professor Amanda Hagood said.
Hagood is also quite hopeful of the future for diversity and inclusion on campus, speaking on how the work the council is doing can help expand professional development for faculty and staff as well as act as an educational resource for students as well.
Longer-term projects such as increasing the amount of minority groups represented on campus and having a more diverse faculty take more time and have more moving pieces. Yet Hagood is excited to see more energy and resources being invested in these initiatives over the next few years, which she hopes will encourage not only more diversity, but a more equitable and inclusive campus as well.
But in the short term, Harthorne, Hagood and the Diversity Action Council will continue their work to advocate for increased representation and inclusion on campus through Zoom calls with influential Black speakers, as well as fostering more support for inclusion events such as Women’s History Month and Pride Week.