By Fabio Lopez
Fresh from celebrating its first anniversary, the team of the Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), spearheaded by El pagnier K. Hudson, senior vice president of human resources and vice provost for DEI, is ready for 2022 with the goal of cultivating a safe, diverse, welcoming community where all students, faculty and staff members feel like they belong.
In just one year since its inception, DEI is more than just a reaction to the summer of 2020 protests and a more long-lasting program, which Hudson says was the charge when it was established. Following the death of George Floyd and subsequent global protests, the university started directly addressing issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. The university adopted the Equity Action Initiative (EAI) in September 2020 and officially launched the Division of DEI in November of that year. Under the leadership of Hudson, the Division of DEI has implemented numerous initiatives to push the university toward sustainable DEI transformation.
“I’ve tried to distinguish it from the EAI because the work risks being seen only as a Black Lives Matter initiative. Although the EAI is proudly its origin, the purpose and mission of this division is so much more. Institutionalizing diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging beyond the moment that catalyzed it is really the biggest challenge,” Hudson says.
As a best practice in creating a foundation for this work, the division has established institutional DEI goals around representation, policy/accountability and institutional learning, which directly support the university’s strategic plan and performance metrics.
“I am beyond ecstatic that we have institutional goals because these formalize the commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. I am proud that our words have been matched by our deeds,” Hudson says.
This also involves a diversity council that includes three student members and compasses six different committees to advise the university’s DEI initiatives.
Institutional learning was one of the objectives DEI wanted to focus on during its inaugural year. Part of this goal moves the university through the process of understanding others’ experiences coupled with understanding the root causes of divide—be they racial, generational, sexual, ethnic, disability-related or religious.
Hudson expands on how inclusive excellence training will prove imperative in achieving this goal. “Inclusive excellence training is going to elevate all of us in our awareness and understanding of otherness, offering insights on how to be intelligent about experiencing other cultures, ethnicities, genders and/or sexual orientations,” Hudson explained.
One of the division’s institutional learning accomplishments during its first year included creating and launching micro-credentials for students, faculty and staff. The first micro-credentialing course was Foundations of Diversity, Equity, and Belonging in the Workplace for FIU managers. The other DEI-focused micro-credential, created in collaboration with the Office of Social Justice, includes student-focused content such as Fundamentals of Social Justice.
Additionally, the division has worked tirelessly in various efforts, such as developing a dedicated DEI website, piloting Strategic Collaboration Labs, and establishing faculty and staff affinity groups. One of the first major initiatives that DEI championed with FIU was making Juneteenth an official day of observance and celebration within the university, highlighting its importance in American history and its historical significance with Black culture in the United States.
Most recently, the division released the Belonging Survey, under the “You Belong Here,” campaign which will serve as an umbrella to assess organizational culture through a DEI lens and will contribute to programmatic efforts to strengthen the university. The survey will allow the university to gain a better understanding of personal experiences with diversity, equity and inclusion within the institution.
”I want to hear what the students, faculty and staff believe we should improve on and build in a way that allows us to address, support, and create that sense of belonging for everyone," says Hudson on the significance of the Belonging Survey and its importance for the implementation of additional goals and initiatives. "I'm extremely excited about the survey results and seeing how we're going to use that as a tool to inform our campus-wide initiatives.”
Hudson acknowledges the importance of FIU, as a leading university in the nation, solidifying DEI as a sustained imperative. “The focus is keeping this work relevant. I want people to understand that this is not a flavor of the day, this is not a moment in time, this is not a check the box,” Hudson says. "This is a movement, not a moment, that lifts us all."