New Office of Inclusion Initiatives and Cultural Competence to promote cultural inclusivity, awareness

Tina Smith (Vanderbilt University)

In light of the university’s strategic commitment to fostering a diverse and inclusive campus community, students and university leaders are having more conversations about how to ensure a campus environment that embraces and respects all forms of racial, cultural, gender and religious identity or expression and sexual orientation.

A result of these conversations is a new office, Inclusion Initiatives and Cultural Competence (IICC), which aims to help students develop the skills necessary to promote social justice and to have constructive conversations surrounding differences. Assistant Dean of Students Tina Smith has been promoted to associate dean and will lead IICC.

In her new role, Smith will have oversight of the Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center, the Office of LGBTQI Life, International Student and Scholar Services, the Office of the University Chaplain and Religious Life and an IICC working group that will include three program coordinators dedicated to providing direct support to students and student organizations, including those that had been previously served by the Office of Intercultural Affairs.

The creation of IICC within the Office of the Dean of Students is in line with a move by the university to reinvigorate its efforts related to diversity and inclusion.

During his spring meeting with the university’s faculty, Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos encouraged faculty to rededicate themselves to thinking about issues of diversity and inclusion and shared his commitment to creating a faculty committee that would lead to student conversations and eventually an action plan.

The changes in the Dean of Students office resulted from an in-depth analysis conducted during the 2015 spring semester. Cynthia Cyrus, vice provost for learning and residential affairs; Mark Bandas, associate provost and dean of students; Smith; Frank Dobson, director of the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center; and Kehsi Iman Wilson, program coordinator in the Office of the Dean of Students, invested in a listening tour regarding the diversity and inclusion needs of students.

The group met with a number of students—including those affiliated with the black cultural center, Interfaith Council, International Student and Scholar Services, Multicultural Leadership Council and Vanderbilt Student Government—and increasingly heard that students believe there are opportunities for expanded academic and social offerings related to diversity and inclusion.

“The listening tour directly informed the creation of this office,” Cyrus said. “We are grateful to the many people who took the time to reflect on what the university could do to improve in this important area.

“The university is exploring a variety of ways to ensure our students feel they can have these important conversations and interactions. We want to move Vanderbilt forward and hope this new structure will expand impact in existing initiatives, such as the diverse and socially integrated communities that are The Martha Rivers Ingram Commons and Warren and Moore College Halls,” she said.

“Tina Smith and her team will focus on creating intentional programming and trainings for students, faculty and staff,” Bandas said. “We especially want our students to gain the ability to initiate constructive conversations around all forms of differences so they have the tools they need to effect positive change in an increasingly diverse world.”

Other changes related to the creation of the new office and efforts to retool the Office of the Dean of Students’ diversity efforts include the black cultural center’s coming under the aegis of the Dean of Students office and Dobson, the center’s director, being named an assistant dean.

The Dean of Students office plans to fully implement the reorganization by Aug. 1.