An interdisciplinary team at UConn is leading an effort to study transformative strategies to advance inclusive learning experiences for students and enhance student belonging. Their October kickoff event, called “Equity in Action,” at the School of Business in Hartford, focused on envisioning what equitable and inclusive teaching and learning looks like at UConn Hartford, as a model for the entire UConn community.
Funded through an Inclusive Excellence 3 (IE3) grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), the conference was a starting point for discussions leading to action at all levels of the University to promote student success. Attendees included University leadership from the Office of the Provost, leaders from various schools and departments, faculty, and students. The feedback, strategies, and recommendations gathered at this event will drive the IE3 core team’s efforts for the upcoming year.
One of the clear messages from the event was that holistic student support encompasses academic, financial, mental health, and equitable pathways all working together.
“Data shows us that racism and inequity are real and endemic,” says Vice Provost for Health Sciences and Interdisciplinary Studies Amy Gorin. “It is a higher education crisis. UConn leadership recognizes the departments, faculty, and students dedicated to working in this space and commits to elevating these efforts to create systemic change on our campus.”
The creation of an anti-racist university that focuses on student success through equity and belongingness was the primary topic attendees addressed at the workshop. A presentation from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) on the 2023 report, “Advancing Anti-Racism, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in STEM Organizations,” summarized research and evidence in the ways racism and bias conditions create systemic barriers and impede STEM careers for historically marginalized groups in the United States.
Academy members Karl Reid and Emily Vargas reviewed the report along with actionable recommendations that can be implemented to achieve systemic change. The workshop provided space for participants to interpret the NASEM recommendations in context and faculty sessions discussed collective and individual actions in the classroom.
On the second day, Director of Academic Affairs for UConn Hartford Saran Stewart explained the impact of redlining and other policies in the Hartford area. A number of faculty-initiated contributions to improve teaching and learning environments were also presented. The event ended with student input about learning experiences.
“It’s a messy challenge that does not have a simple solution,” says Martina Rosenberg, who leads the UConn team on the IE3 grant and is director of teaching and learning assessment for the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL). “As seen in one course redesign success story at UConn Hartford, collective and individual action were both necessary to counteract the differential impact of policies and practices outside of academia. We were reminded that practices have a direct and lasting effect on educational experiences before students come to UConn and while they persist here.”
Students at the event emphasized creating readily accessible customized advising, empowerment through ongoing feedback mechanisms, fostering faculty development for more student-centric courses, and enforcing a safe and inclusive campus environment. Students also expressed that the orientation process also should include a deeper look at classes and feel they would have benefitted speaking to social workers in addition to advisors before starting college.
The workshop pulled together committee members from UConn Hartford, the Vergnano Institute for Inclusion, CETL, and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. The combined knowledge and effort not only provided the research and data backing the need to examine equity across campuses, but also scaffolded the human side of the equation.
“The student voice should drive our efforts to dismantle systems of inequity at UConn,” says Stephany Santos, Executive Director of the Vergnano Institute for Inclusion. “Their lived experiences provide the context to understand the challenges today’s students have already overcome. It is our responsibility to get UConn ready to support them.”
To learn more about the IE3 grant, contact Martina Rosenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.