Vanderbilt’s Provost’s Office for Inclusive Excellence (OIE) and identity centers coordinated a number of initiatives and events during the fall 2020 semester to support the university community—in particular, those members with systemically nondominant identities—amid the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing social and political unrest in the country.
OIE’s central office and its four identity centers—the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center, the K.C. Potter Center and Office of LGBTQI Life, the Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center and the Office of the University Chaplain and Religious Life—strive to promote academic advancement, belonging and inclusion, and cultural awareness in education and in practice through intentional programming and discussion. Their aim is to contribute to the academic success of all students, faculty and postdoctoral fellows and, through collaboration with campus partners, foster a culture of inclusivity and belonging at Vanderbilt.
To that end, the Deans’ Diversity Designates were announced in early December. These liaisons representing Vanderbilt’s 10 colleges and schools will work directly with OIE and serve as advocates for inclusive excellence as well as equity-, diversity- and inclusion-related initiatives in their respective areas across the university campus. The designates will be guided by a collective responsibility to build a more inclusive and equitable Vanderbilt through the sharing of information and by reviewing current processes and practices to recommend change rooted in equity, inclusion and belonging.
The work of OIE’s identity initiatives—InclusAbility, SomosVU and two more that are currently underway for first-generation community members and people from low- and lower-income backgrounds—is ongoing. These Initiatives serve as resource hubs for people who share the identities for which the initiatives are designed.
In addition, this semester OIE helped pilot The B.I.N.G.O. Project as a resource to support student leaders in building community and engaging in crucial conversations within their respective student organizations. One example is the School of Nursing’s Alliance Against Racism, which coordinated with The B.I.N.G.O. Project throughout the first half of the semester to engage in reflection and dialogue on being allies and accomplices.
Notable fall 2020 efforts and activities that highlight the division’s principles and commitment to the Vanderbilt community include the following:
The Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center hosted a Racial and Social Justice Institute Series consisting of three events.
- “Understanding Bail and Ending Wealth-Based Detention,” held Sept. 17, featured guests from the Nashville Community Bail Fund discussing how the bail system contributes to mass incarceration, the school-to-prison pipeline and racial inequality. Nearly 50 people participated in the talk, including students, faculty, staff and alumni.
- “Poll Taxes, Literacy Tests and Voter ID Laws: The Evolution of Voter Suppression,” held Oct. 12, featured Charlane Oliver, executive director of the Equity Alliance, discussing the role of voter suppression in disenfranchising marginalized groups, particularly people of color, and how the Equity Alliance seeks to combat voter suppression. Nearly 60 people attended, including students, faculty, staff and alumni.
- “What to do When Stopped by the Police,” held Nov. 9, featured the ALCU of Middle Tennessee leading a discussion about citizen’s rights when stopped or questioned by law enforcement. The ACLU representatives empowered attendees to advocate for themselves and gain a better understanding of the law. Nearly 50 people attended, including students, faculty, staff and alumni.
K.C. Potter Center and Office of LGBTQI Life
- National Coming Out Day and the Out & Proud photo shoot on Oct. 9 and 11 were opportunities to celebrate those who have been able to come out, as well as to support those who have not come out or are unable to come out. Over two days, faculty, staff and students had their photos taken by a professional photographer, and those who were comfortable had their photos posted on LGBTQI Life’s social media accounts to mark National Coming Out Day.
- “Are You Complicit? Moving from Ally to Accomplice: A Workshop on Racism and Allyship in the LGBTQ+ Community,” held Oct. 16, featured Cecilia Olusola Tribble, a cultural educator and racial equity coach, and Lyndsey Godwin, assistant director of the Carpenter Program in Religion, Gender and Sexuality at Vanderbilt, in a workshop that unpacked the language of “ally” and helped participants begin to develop the skills to move past their discomfort and privilege to combat racism in the LGBTQIA+ community.
- The LGBTQI Life and LGBTQ Health Lecture, held 3, featured representatives from both groups presenting tools to better provide LGBTQ+ patients with competent care. More than 200 first-year nursing students participated. The areas covered included culture, intersectionality, health disparities and inclusive care practices.
Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center
- The Women’s Center’s Parenting Group hosted several “Pandemic Parenting Check-ins” throughout the fall. These informal virtual conversations were designed to provide an opportunity for parents in the Vanderbilt community to discuss how they are coping with remote schooling and other challenges presented by the pandemic.
- The Body Project conducted two four-week workshops in October and November. The initiative is a four-hour, peer-led body acceptance program designed to help young women recognize unrealistic beauty standards and resist cultural pressures to conform to these harmful ideals.
- “Cancel Culture,” held Sept. 24, featured a peer-facilitated discussion for undergraduate students about cancel culture, which recently has become a contentious topic, particularly on social media. The event was part of the Women’s Center’s Kitchen Table Series.
Office of the University Chaplain and Religious Life
- Vanderbilt’s annual Holocaust Lecture Series, the longest-running continuous lecture series about the Holocaust at an American university, sponsored events from September to November. For more than 40 years, the series has brought notable scholars, survivors and liberators, and artistic examinations of the Shoah to Vanderbilt’s campus to help community members reflect on themselves and society in the wake of the Holocaust.
- “Centering in Chaos,” held Nov. 3, was an opportunity for Vanderbilt community members to engage in an embodied meditation experience. The non-sectarian spiritual and meditative practice allowed participants to journey to the center and release heavy emotions in response to the chaos of the social, political, racial, medical and emotional turmoil some have experienced in our current climate.
For more information about these initiatives, visit the Office for Inclusive Excellence website.