To Include is To Excel: Inclusivity Advocates
In the first three years of the To Include is To Excel initiative, St. Olaf College faculty, staff members, and students have developed more than 50 grant-funded projects to support inclusive teaching and learning. We’re highlighting these projects in this series — and we hope that hearing about this work in the words of fellow faculty and staff members will inspire you to think about how you can be part of creating a more inclusive and equitable campus community.
Five years ago, a group of St. Olaf College students who wanted to see more diversity programming on campus — and in the residence halls in particular — formed a group that they named the Inclusivity Advocates.
Over the years, the Inclusivity Advocates (IA) program has grown and become an official student organization sponsored by Residence Life. Each September, the hall councils in each of the 10 campus residence halls choose an IA during elections facilitated by the Student Government Association.
In addition to serving as individual members of their residence hall community council, the campuswide group of IAs meet weekly to enjoy fellowship, plan initiatives for the St. Olaf community, and learn together. The two signature programs the IAs hold each year are the annual All Campus Diversity Seminars and the Week of Intersectionality. Within Residence Life, the IA program continues to focus on anti-racism actions in its training events, residence life policies and procedures, staff training and hiring, and community council events and initiatives.
Beginning with the 2021-22 academic year, IAs will hold a paid position. The IAs will be part of the residence life student staff, with their primary role being training, programming, and serving as a resource for RAs/JCs, Community Councils, and residents in the diversity, equity, and inclusion programs and initiatives of the residence hall communities.
The support of a To Include is To Excel grant enabled IA program leaders to further strengthen and institutionalize their work. They developed and hosted a workshop to establish long-term goals and learn about identity coalitions and campuswide inclusion, and spent time planning for the Week of Intersectionality and diversity seminar programming.
Residence Life Area Coordinator Damian Waite shares what IA program leaders learned in developing this To Include is To Excel project and what he hopes the community takes away from it:
What led you to develop this To Include is To Excel project?
The primary reason for applying for a To Include is To Excel grant was to enhance the IA training to increase diversity and equity skills. This equips IAs to better serve their residence hall communities. As a result of receiving this grant, we surpassed this goal. IA leaders have revamped the program’s structure; developed a manual, mission statement, and logo; created a leadership structure; and expanded and added in new and different dimensions to campus outreach. I was also accepted to present on the program to my colleagues across the Midwest at the 50th Anniversary Conference of the Upper Midwest Region Association of College and University Housing Officers in St. Paul MN in 2019.
What did you learn — about yourself, your students, your colleagues, the St. Olaf community — as you began working on this project?
At the end of the year when the grant was received, the IAs were part of a focus group where we received feedback about the program and an analysis of its strengths and opportunities. The main takeaway from the participants was that the program has the potential to be more impactful on the campus community if the time and resources are spent to develop the program offerings. Student participants wanted to increase their outreach to the college, and we were able to open the diversity seminars to the campus community, which was very much embraced by the entire college. We also learned that this program can be a dynamic dimension to the ongoing diversity and anti-racism action that the entire campus community is called to engage. We realized that the cost for this full ongoing engagement is a limitation to our current capacity, but we will continue to strive to do the hard work necessary for our residence halls to be places where all students can thrive.
What do you hope students and other members of the St. Olaf community take away from this work?
Each year we want to continue to train and develop competent student leaders in anti-racist action and knowledge so that they can better serve our communities. We want to continue to support our BIPOC community on campus and in the residence halls while also highlighting local, national, and international issues that affect people everywhere.
We want to continue to support our BIPOC community on campus and in the residence halls while also highlighting local, national, and international issues that affect people everywhere.
We hope that students and other members of the community benefit from the program offerings by taking the lessons learned or the call to action given and investing in their own self-education and self-understanding around inclusion and anti-racism. The potential energy of the campus community to become a more welcoming place where we all can thrive must become kinetic for this to be realized. We hope that the IA program is contributing to this action.
How can the St. Olaf community support your project?
We are in the middle of hiring IAs for the 2021-22 academic year. Students who are interested in becoming part of this cohort should submit their application on the Residence Life employment site (the application is open through April 19).
The campus community can also support the project by attending the seminars that will be offered in the fall of 2021. Look for more information about this!
Where does your work go from here?
We will continue to develop the program. In this new iteration, we will assess it after one year to see how the new format works. We plan to refine the offerings as the needs and desires of the campus residential communities develop and the focus of our students continues to evolve in an ever-changing world.