Our Thoughts.

The Critical Link Between Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) to Recruitment and Retention.

 

Juniata College took the opportunity to evaluate, reflect and move forward their equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives while creating a link to recruitment and retention.

 

 

Reggie Onyido, Senior Associate Dean of Enrollment Management stepped in to be the Acting Director of EDI in June 2020 and explains the opportunities of a hybrid position, the challenging conversations and what it means for the future of EDI at Juniata College.

 

 “It’s important to advance and uplift student voices from an already passionate student body. We wanted to amplify their voices and their interest and enthusiasm for EDI.”

 

Ross: How did your new hybrid role in EDI and enrollment management evolve at Juniata?

Reggie: We began conversations early in 2020 about building more support around EDI on campus and tying it to recruitment and retention.

The Office of Admission is working with four community based organizations (CBOs) in Pennsylvania, Illinois and California and we wanted closer ties to support students from these organizations.

Given the timing of our nation’s events, we embarked on an accelerated process to move our EDI efforts forward while not losing ground on our current initiatives. It was critical to improve the way we recruited students to Juniata, and the way in which we supported them to graduation and beyond.

From the onset, we recognized that, for us to be successful in our work, it was going to take an entire campus to focus on EDI and support future initiatives.

 

As you began this position in June of 2020, what main goals did you set?

  • Comprehensive Overarching Strategy: We embarked on a thoughtful, comprehensive and strategic approach to provide guidance for EDI across the entire campus community.
  • Resetting Goals: We set out to examine and consider immediate (changes to the curriculum) proximal and distant goals (creation of the EDI Council) for the college that were challenging, but realistic to achieve.
  • Amplify Student Voices: We knew advancing and uplifting student voices from an already passionate student body was a top priority.

 

Describe a few ways your comprehensive work in EDI has benefited not only the institution, but also the enrollment office and their recruitment efforts.

  • Campus Policies Reviewed: We developed the EDI council (comprised of faculty, staff and students) as a fully functioning committee to evaluate all campus policies.
  • Improved Application Review Process: We examined how we read applications through a new lens. Completed bias training as an enrollment staff covering various topics such as:
    • Understanding why a student did/did not pursue upper-level course(s) like AP, IB, college credit, and honors or even elective courses.
    • Gaining broader insight on mixed learning environments (i.e., at home and hybrid) and the unique barriers students face from support resource disruption to poor internet connectivity.
    • Identifying unique home and family matters and challenges outside the student’s control that may connect to their academic preparedness:
      • Students serving in parental roles for younger siblings
      • Student’s parents not believing in the need for academic support services
    • Why the experiences of students matter as we evaluate the academic preparedness
    • A greater understanding of the challenges students face in low SES regions
    • Ungrading philosophy as you read essays
      • A process that seeks to review an essay not for grammar but context, and clarity
  • Data Better Understood: Our learnings allowed us to be more attentive to the diverse statistics of specified regions as we considered recruiting marginalized populations and supporting those students when they arrive to campus.
  • Focused on Best Practices: Enrollment was exposed to additional training in enhanced practices related to diversity initiatives.
  • Other Facets of the Institution Improved: We became more conscious of hiring practices, sensitive to the lived experiences of students, faculty and staff
  • Strengthened Partnerships: We signed four memorandums of understanding (MOU) with CBOs over the past two years. As a representative of EDI and enrollment, I was able to write the MOU in a way that ensures students are supported throughout their four years.

 

What have been the most impactful experiences through the first nine months?

  • Collaboration: We created a summer advisory group made up of students, faculty and staff that focuses on social justice (now EDI Council).
  • Visibility: I have been able to engage in high-level meetings with senior leadership and the Board of Trustees to bring about significant change and gain a mutual understanding of the necessary work in EDI.
  • Communication: Using my position to cultivate conversations between senior leadership and middle management in regards EDI.
  • Engagement: We are consistently engaging students, hearing their voices and observing their impact on EDI in the campus community.

 

“Not every person is at the same level of understanding and growth with EDI conversations and it’s okay! We want to continually engage them and bring them along. We are not closing the door, but leaving it open for when they are ready to come through.”

 

What recommendations do you have for institutions of higher education as they think about EDI and enrollment?

  • Maintain an emphasis on recruitment and retention as you think about EDI initiatives which will provide a direct connection and overlap with enrollment management.
  • Consider a distribution leadership model to promote EDI in different spaces. Consider having representatives in departments across campus where their role has a component (i.e. resident assistants, advancement, athletics, etc.). They become EDI ambassadors imbedded throughout the institution.
  • Identify individuals who have a passion and are excited about the work in EDI within various campus departments.

 

What have been the greatest challenges of your hybrid role and/or most challenging conversations? How did you overcome them?

  • The demand of time. Preparing for senior leadership meetings, Board of Trustees, chairing a committee, recruiting and managing a territory all while balancing it with personal life and family.
    • Calendars work! I have found that scheduling ample time to make phone calls to students to congratulate them on admission and follow-up with parents/guardians on financial aid awards, preparing board materials, and setting committee agendas work best when they are scheduled (weeks) in advance.
  • Avoiding racial equity detours [Pacing-for-Privilege]. Someone who is not ready to receive the info, knowledge or growth, as a society, culture or institution can stall progress. Do not let others dictate the speed in which you move forward-it will impede progress.
  • Learning that not every person is at the same level of understanding and growth with EDI conversations and that is ok! We want to continually engage them and bring them along. We are not closing the door but leaving it open for when they are ready to come through.
    • It takes committed individuals to keep pace. Use of statements like Equity is not optional or negotiable. This is who we are as an institution.

 

Some might be critical about a position being combined to save institutional money which lessens the focus of EDI and slightly diminishes the true intent of the role. How would you address that criticism? What additional advice would you offer?

  • I believe institutions are trying to balance being fiscally sustainable with delivering their educational mission. For us [Juniata] it is truly a bridge to heighten the focus overall and within the realms of recruitment and retention.
  • At Juniata this is and always was a goal to hire somebody full-time, but we believe it is important to find the right person, fully understand our goals and needs and further define the position before pushing us forward.
  • For now, we believe hybrid roles have real benefits. They provide an opportunity to conduct cross training and enhance relationships with students. I would encourage institutions to consider it; just be sure to think collaboratively and strategically about where a hybrid role or EDI ambassador is placed within the institution so they are able to have a true impact on the campus community.

 

Located in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, Juniata College is a cohesive community of interesting, inquisitive, hardworking, and fun individuals who think deeply about who we are meant to be. They believe there is no better place on the planet for discovering your passions, developing your intellect and your heart, and ultimately becoming the author of your own powerful story. Learn more at juniata.edu.

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