Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives in the UHP

Dear UHP Students:

The faculty and staff of the University Honors Program are committed to addressing and ending any negative experiences for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) students in our community. We write to share with you the steps that we are currently undertaking—and have already undertaken—to confront issues of diversity within our own program. This work is ongoing; it is not always obvious and, in a large institution like ours, progress can sometimes be slow. The UHP has also recently gone through a significant change in its administrative structure and staffing and such transitions always divert time and energy away from important objectives.   

After hearing from students about diversity concerns in the Fall, we began working with Director of University Diversity & Inclusion Programs Jordan West, who suggested we begin with a “temperature survey” for the program to help focus our actions towards the areas in most need of consideration and change. This work has been delayed by the pandemic, but we are committed to administering this survey in Fall 2020. The newly re-formed UHP Advisory Committee (which includes faculty representatives from around the university) has also been tasked with making recommendations to the program in this area. As mentioned in our previous email, we are convening as well a UHP working group composed of students, faculty, and staff to help guide us forward. Students who would like to volunteer to be a member of this working group should complete this form. This group will convene over WebEx this summer (at a date and time convenient to as many participants as possible), but those who are unable to participate this summer are still invited to sign up. Work will continue in the Fall.      

Several recent straightforward changes that have been made include updating the UHP Student Handbook for 2020-2021 to include specific policies related to UHP student conduct to help maintain a supportive and inclusive environment for all our learners. The faculty handbook is also being updated to include additional expectations and resources for instructors. Origins’ faculty are working together as well to diversify their Origins courses. In recent years, faculty have expanded their range of readings to include non-White authors such as James Baldwin, Frantz Fanon, the Dalai Lama, and Paulo Freire, to name a few. Women writers such as Simone de Beauvoir, Christine Korsgaard, Martha Nussbaum, and Virginia Held have been added to syllabi, and many of our faculty have shown students the anti-racist documentary “I’m Not Your Negro,” a powerful film on Baldwin and the American Civil Rights movement. Diversifying our syllabi is an ongoing effort—one that started over a decade ago when we began the important work of teaching non-Western traditions like Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucian thought in Origins. We remain committed to advancing a wide range of voices in the Honors program, and recognize that Origins is not the only place where we have work to do. It is important to us that all of our classes and spaces feel welcoming and inclusive to everyone. This will require working on our culture as a whole, reviewing how we teach our course materials, and being more mindful of how we engage with students inside and outside of the classroom. 

Like all special programs on campus, the UHP works in concert with the GW Office of Undergraduate Admissions in recruitment and admissions. The UHP staff has worked and is working closely with Admissions on the issue of diversity in enrollment. We have discussed the issue in depth with Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Ben Toll last summer, and we have emphasized our desire to have the Honors Program advertise as widely as possible. As a result of these meetings, the UHP was involved with the “Your GW” program in the Fall, which provided a direct avenue to a set of prospective GW students who we hoped would consider applying to the Honors program. We recognize that our admissions process is not yet fixed, but we are taking steps to understand the problem and learn how we can do better. We are pressing Admissions to ensure that a diverse set of applications is sent for our review. We are working to upgrade the UHP website so that it better represents the program and will be more attractive to prospective students who want to build a strong academic community. We have also altered our portion of the admissions process to more explicitly consider factors such as race, socioeconomics, and first-generation status.    

In Fall 2020, all UHP first-year students will live as a community in West Hall. Having the full incoming class living in West will allow us to do more focused community building in the first year, which is planned to include issues related to diversity and inclusion. Though a return to “normal” is unlikely in the Fall, we remain committed to unifying the incoming class through a shared academic and co-curricular program. Vern RAs are committed to building a community that supports all of our students. The UHP will also be working with the MVC Area Coordinator (Dan Wright) and Community Director (Marissa Townsend) to discuss options for integrating diversity and inclusion education programs in the residential community experience directly. Further, in collaboration with the Office for Diversity, Equity, and Community Engagement, all UHP students will take part in an unconscious bias workshop in the Fall.

In addition, we are integrating anti-racist and anti-bias training into the Peer Advisor program so that peer advisors are equipped with the tools and self-awareness needed to address acts of racism and bias as well as refer students to supportive resources. Peer Advisor Leadership in particular will participate in anti-racist and anti-bias training to uphold these standards for the rest of the peer advisor program. 

 Under the Honors new administrative organization, Associate Provost for Special Programs & the Mount Vernon Academic Experience Elizabeth Chacko is tasked with course staffing. We have had multiple discussions about the need for diverse course offerings and faculty in our upper level courses, but because faculty and classes are scheduled a year in advance this process takes time. Since the needs of the UHP are similar to those of the other special programs on the Mount Vernon Campus, Associate Provost Chacko is working on building common programming to address these issues among students and faculty throughout these programs. In addition, our faculty and staff—like our students-—will take part in anti-racist and anti-bias training (again, hosted by GW’s Office for Diversity, Equity, and Community Engagement).

The University Honors Program believes that critical reflection, historical awareness, an openness to the diversity of human experience, and an empathetic moral imagination are the cognitive skills necessary for building a just society free from racism and oppression. The UHP is committed to cultivating these skills and enabling our students to become agents of positive change as we struggle together to create a compassionate society in which all can flourish and thrive without fear of harm. 

In solidarity,
The UHP Administration & Faculty

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