Co-Creating an Inclusive Community

“Look closely at the present you are constructing; it should look like the future you are dreaming.”

                                                     –Alice Walker

In the Co-Creating an Inclusive Community initiative, students, faculty, staff, and leadership work together to envision and create a more inclusive St. Olaf, where people of all identities experience connection, belonging, and agency.

PURPOSE

The core of this project is an iterative series of “co-creating cycles” of work enabling the St. Olaf community to:

  • Articulate a vision of what a more inclusive St. Olaf would look like;
  • Act to bring the campus closer to that vision; and
  • Advance a shared understanding of where we have made progress and where we need to go next.

PROJECT DESIGN: THE CO-CREATING CYCLE

  • Co-creating groups – Faculty, staff, students, and academic and administrative leaders work with peers in 90-minute working sessions to articulate their vision for “inclusive community” at St. Olaf, and identify actions at every level of the college to help realize it.
  • Synthesis  – Faculty-supervised student analysts will synthesize the written reports from the co-creating groups and share the results with the campus community.
  • Action – The leaders of the Co-Creating initiative will work with appropriate individuals, offices, departments, and student groups to respond to the collective vision and action recommendations of the co-creating groups. Some recommendations involve short-term changes that individuals and groups can readily adopt, while others concern longer-term initiatives requiring leadership, support, and coordinated implementation for systemic change.
  • Impact  – Information about the actions taken in response to the co-creating group reports, together with early information about the impact of these changes,  is reported back to the campus community.
  • Analysis and planning – Each successive Co-Creating cycle is planned in light of the outcomes of the previous

PROJECT IMPLEMENTATION AND IMPACT

Since January 2021, nearly 75% of St. Olaf students and 90% of faculty and staff have participated in one or more elements of the Co-Creating an Inclusive Community initiative.

  • Co-Creating groups – The Co-Creating initiative began with campus-wide anti-racism training in January-February 2021, engaging approximately 75% of the St. Olaf community. Over the remainder of Spring 2021, more than a quarter of currently enrolled students and 90% of faculty and staff participated in one of 85 different Co-Creating groups, meeting with peers to share their experiences, their vision, and their action recommendations for a more inclusive St. Olaf. Members of the Board of Regents and the Alumni Board held Co-Creating conversations as well. Groups were facilitated by trained faculty, staff, and student leaders, who prepared written reports on key themes articulated by the participants.
  • Synthesis – During Summer 2021, four student researchers led by a faculty member in Sociology/Anthropology coded and summarized the Spring 2021 Co-Creating group reports, using the DEI Theory of Transformation to classify the main themes. Their findings were shared with the St. Olaf community in a September 2021 virtual Community Forum attended by more than 50 students, staff, faculty, and alumni, followed by a written report available here:

Spring 2021 Co-Creating Group Reports – Executive Summary

Spring 2021 Co-Creating Group Reports – Complete Analysis

  • Action and impact – A wide variety of institutional-level actions were prompted by the Spring 2021 Co-Creating group reports. Examples include:
    • Expanded DEI professional development for faculty and staff during 2021-22 offered by the Vice President for Equity and Inclusion
    • Expanded Heritage Months programming
    • Development and implementation of a flexible work policy and the re-establishment of the Benefits Advisory Committee
    • A faculty/staff professional development series on “Can St. Olaf be Lutheran and Inclusive?” offered in January 2022 and repeated in June 2022
    • The development and launch of the May 2022 Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Symposium
    • The establishment of faculty, staff, and student DEI awards
    • The creation and staffing of a new Employee Engagement and Experience Specialist position in Human Resources, focused on onboarding, professional development, and inclusion
    • The purchase of institutional memberships on job boards focused on recruiting BIPOC staff and faculty
    • Significant enhancements to the student employment experience, affecting recruitment and hiring, compensation, training, supervision and mentoring, and relationships with co-workers, together with the launch of an “Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace” workshop for student workers
  • Analysis and planning – In addition to prompting these institutional-level actions, the Spring 2021 group reports led to the launch of a new Co-Creating cycle at the department/office level. In Fall 2021, following training with the Vice President for Equity and Inclusion, the Co-Creating facilitators began meeting with individual departments and offices to review the reports from the Spring 2021 Co-Creating groups involving their own team members and to identify next steps within their units.