The University of the Future According to the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

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This article is part of a multiple-part series detailing The University of the Future Roadmap released by Rowan University.

The University of the Future Roadmap contains several recommendations the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) hopes to implement with an intention of creating an ideal campus for those who don’t have the luxury of fitting into the status quo. As Rowan expands, so does the need for the Division of DEI to address a broad spectrum of issues accurately. 

In 2019, the Division of DEI was able to identify areas of improvement by implementing focus groups and surveys across Rowan’s Glassboro, Stratford and Camden campuses. They identified multiple areas that Rowan could improve upon and created a DEI council made up of about 60 individuals who meet monthly to develop strategic action plans.

“Since that time, we’ve made big strides, and I’m proud,” Senior Vice President of DEI Dr. Monika Shealey said. “We started before George Floyd and the pandemic, so it positioned us well to be active in what was happening around the country.”

While the Division of DEI understands the need to recruit and retain more students of color that reflect the community Rowan calls home, they also seek to help create a safe environment for students of different genders and individuals classified as neurodivergent.

“We are preparing to launch a center for neurodiversity services in the fall where neurodivergent students can go and get help. Their families also can get assistance to better support their family members. We would actually be the only [University] in the state of New Jersey with one,” Shealey said.

Neurodiversity is a relatively young civil rights movement centered around learning and disability, which argues that diverse neurological conditions result from standard variations in the human genome. While neurodiversity is often associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it can also apply to individuals with other conditions such as dyslexia.

Shealey stated that the Division of DEI looked to colleges that have already implemented neurodivergent initiatives like Vanderbilt University, whose engineering school hopes to make a more equitable learning experience for students with autism.

“I think it’s a strong message that we are sending, that we are committed to diversity,” Shealey said. “Certainly in naming systemic racism, but [we’re] also committed to looking at the needs of neurodivergent students.”

While areas of inclusion like neurodiversity offer exciting new opportunities for autistic students, the Division of DEI also continues to address commonly talked about racial issues like conflicts between police and minorities.

“Students, particularly Black students, have said anecdotally that they have experienced feelings of racial profiling from Rowan and Glassboro police. We want to collect data to see if this something we can determine from stops, warrants and citations from Rowan and Glassboro police,” Shealey said. “We developed the Law Enforcement and Community Collaborative that would allow us to be proactive and bring students, community members, law enforcement professionals and Rowan faculty together.”

Rowan’s Law Enforcement and Community Collaborative subcommittees are dedicated to developing law enforcement professionals rooted in diversity, equity and inclusion.

“We have about nine agencies that have signed onto the collaborative who will work with law and justice faculty and listen to students about what they think community policing should look like,” Shealey said. “That is exciting because I think that it is meeting not just a local need but also a national need. It’s not common for us to see community collaboratives coming together to listen to each other, both oriented on solutions.”

In addition to the collaboration, the Division of DEI also has a research and grants group to implement the solutions discussed between law enforcement and community members. 

The University of the Future Roadmap also contains recommendations to expand financial aid to battle systemic issues like the high frequency of financial burdens that minority students disproportionately experience.

“I think the increase of financial aid is an amazing idea, mainly because most issues faced by minorities are financially related. It’s usually a stressor, especially for college students,” Eliya Bravo, the president of Rowan’s student-led Women of Color Alliance (WOCA), said. “We shouldn’t have to balance studies while working a job, or even two jobs, just to afford our education.”

The Division of DEI also sees the University of the Future as a place that offers diverse students a place to be themselves without fear of retaliation.

“We try very hard to create safe spaces. We have this message that you can hold a space for your identity where you can build a community to feel safe and supportive,” Shealey said. “We want to keep those safe spaces but also add spaces where people can share, celebrate and learn from each other.”

Shealey stated that people often view these safe spaces as detrimental to inclusion, considering that they separate people into race and gender identities. 

“Sometimes the problem is people think because we are promoting inclusion, we should be together all the time, and we should never hold space for people who share an identity,” Shealey said. “Just because people are with others that look like them or have similar identities that other people can’t see, that doesn’t mean we don’t create opportunities that are cross-cultural.”

Shealey also stated that the Division of DEI will continue to educate people about the needs of minority students and offer them places to feel comfortable, like in Holly Pointe’s gender-inclusive housing. 

“The gender-inclusive housing at Holly Pointe is a great opportunity for students in the process of transitioning. As a trans woman, I would be uncomfortable sharing a room with someone who is unable to relate to the process of transitioning. School itself can be mentally exhausting, so having the stressor of living with someone I am unsure of can be detrimental to my education,” Maia Mallone, a trans woman and fourth-year computer science student, said. “You can’t force our beliefs on others, but education on LGBTQ+ issues should be readily available for those who seek it because it’s exhausting to have to advocate for myself constantly. You can’t expect to eliminate homophobia through an abrasive measure. Instead, we should offer a place to allow that dialogue to occur naturally.”

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