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  • Sincerely, Southern

Georgia Southern still taking steps to being a more diverse university

By Shakeera York-Hayward

Blackface, a book burning, trigger-ish, a tenured professor using the N-word in class and countless other racially charged incidents put Georgia Southern University in national and international spotlights for all the wrong reasons. Out of adversity for the university, the Office of Inclusive Excellence was born.

The Office of Inclusive Excellence is run by TaJuan Wilson, Ed.D, the university’s Associate Vice President for Inclusive Excellence and Chief Diversity Officer and a team alongside him that works to make GS feel more like an inclusive environment.

OIE focuses on working with faculty, staff and students while also engaging in the local community and thinking of alumni. One of the common misconceptions about OIE is that it’s strictly student-based but it was created to serve the GS community at large.

“I’m a culture architect. My job is to really understand the impediments to student success and to make sure students can thrive at the university but it’s also to work with my colleagues, the community and alums to make sure the environment is better for them as they navigate through it,” Wilson said, “The job of this office is to develop comprehensive strategies centering around diversity, equity and inclusion that move Georgia Southern University forward.”

GS is moving forward with Wilson and the OIE, as well as other offices that fall under the president’s division, by educating themselves and those who they serve by meeting students, faculty, and staff in the moment when things come up to make sure that everyone is taken care of.

“We want to provide folks an opportunity to not just survive their Georgia Southern University experience, but really thrive,” Wilson said.

OIE is not as much focused on their limitations in certain situations that can get as messy and difficult as trigger-ish did and peoples’ first amendment rights, but the focus is on what it can do and that is take care of the people.

Shay Little, Ph.D., is the Vice President of Student Affairs, and her office has many opportunities to partner with the OIE.

“Thinking inclusively minded and thinking about equity should be a part of our DNA, it should be a part of everything we do,” Little said.

The division of Student Affairs and the OIE recently came up with the Eagle Support Network. This will be a response network made up of students, faculty and staff where the GS community will be able to go to report incidents that occur at the university.

The ESN will provide a place for people to be able to talk about their experiences with things as simple as microaggressions, or as major as the things that have happened in GS’ not so distant past. It will have a forum kind of set up with an immediate response to students who might not know where to get support or what that looks like.

The issues discussed through the ESN will be handled with appropriate responses like going to student conduct if necessary or to human resources for faculty and staff who report their incidents in the network.

“The Eagle Support Network will be available for students to reach out to someone when they experience a positive experience, not just for the negative,” Little said.

Little shared that the division of Student Affairs is collaborating with OIE and coming up with their own inclusive excellence package specifically for the division. This comes after Wilson and the OIE released an inclusive excellence package for the university to follow.

“It’s everyone’s responsibility to be inclusively excellent,” Little said.

Every academic college and every administrative unit are all developing their own inclusive excellence action plans that will detail specifically what they are going to do to make the environment at GS better than before.

The OIE has rolled out a customized diversity EDU training for students, faculty, and staff members that can be found in Folio under the course Personal Skills for a Diverse Campus.

30% of all students have completed their training in the course since its rollout in December.

“I think that’s a strong showing, we’re going to lean into more education and training for sure,” Wilson said.

The OIE has taken measures to implement inclusive excellence when it comes to hiring new faculty as well. New applicants are required to write a statement on how teaching, research, and service intersects with diversity, equity, and inclusion that will be reviewed and evaluated.

Language focusing on the importance of DEI has been embedded into all job listings for GS and there are now added expectations of inclusive excellence on employee evaluations for both faculty and staff to see the level of commitment GS workers have for making the university a welcoming campus for all.

The OIE is dedicated to making sure campus is diverse and inclusive, and listening to students through events like Eagle Talks. OIE is even offering grants to organizations that show a focus in inclusive excellence and moving the university forward.

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