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Q&A with Michele Rovinsky-Mayer: Diversity and Equality at Drexel

October 7, 2013

Michele Rovinsky-Mayer

Michele Rovinsky-Mayer, Drexel’s associate vice president of Equality & Diversity, spent much of her career as a practicing attorney in the area of education and employment civil rights. “I often saw situations where employers and employees were involved in litigation but hadn’t taken the time to understand what the underlying issue was or how they ended up in litigation,” she says.

 

From there, she moved into mediation and conflict resolution, and joined Drexel’s Office of Equality & Diversity. While mediation and conflict resolution are still a large part of her job, she also works to extend intercultural understanding and engagement on a much deeper and broader level. 

 

Drexel Quarterly asked Rovinsky-Mayer about her role in maintaining an inclusive community at Drexel, which includes conflict resolution, education and outreach, as well as the purpose and objectives of the President’s Steering Committee for Diversity.

 

What attracted you to this challenge in the first place?

 

I saw this position as one where I could combine my knowledge of civil rights law and conflict resolution to support diversity and inclusion. I saw that Drexel was interested in proactive conflict resolution. The foundation of the Office of Equality & Diversity has always been about compliance; preventing discrimination and increasing representation of historically underrepresented populations –racial minorities, females, veterans and people with disabilities. While that is the foundation of what this office does, we also do education and outreach that supports a diverse and inclusive community. When you have a diverse and inclusive community, issues of discrimination and underrepresentation are less likely to exist.

 

Drexel is a diverse and inclusive place, but there are areas where we can do better. It is a long-term commitment, and I believe that Drexel is committed to doing the work.

 

Could you explain the difference between diversity and inclusion?

 

Diversity means multiple backgrounds and perspectives, and inclusion means that everyone is engaged and their perspectives are valued.  These terms go together.  We learn more about each other when we are engaged, and we make better decisions when we work in diverse teams.

 

So we set out to create more opportunities at the University for different populations and our community in general to engage. The Intercultural Engagement initiative—now called the Collaborative—was started in 2008. It was out of that commitment to intercultural engagement and community that the James E. Marks Intercultural Center was created in 2010.

 

What does it mean to have a physical space devoted to diversity?

 

It’s a visible manifestation of what we are doing on a daily basis to support diversity and inclusion. The Intercultural Center shows that we have a commitment to helping people learn and grow through intercultural engagement, and it provides a space for that. For example, it’s rare for our gallery space on the first floor to be empty of people.

 

Our program coordinator for the Office of Equality & Diversity creates exhibits in partnership with the colleges and schools, and the community as well. Our first exhibit in the Intercultural Center was Singgalot, a Smithsonian exhibit about Filipino life in America. Our reception for that exhibit brought together our University community and more than 100 members of Philadelphia’s Asian-American community. We hosted a Haitian exhibit with a gallery in Philadelphia that featured almost exclusively Haitian artwork.  We’ve also brought in high school students from Philadelphia who created stained glass windows to donate to community groups around the country and in South Africa. It was a good learning opportunity for our community and for those students, most of whom had never been on a college campus.

 

How can Drexel faculty and staff get involved with your office?

 

If you want to get involved, just send an email or call the office, or stop by the Intercultural Center. We welcome participants in the Book Circle and in the I-Forum. The Book Circle is a shared reading and discussion event that happens four or five times a year at the Intercultural Center. It’s a great way to get involved with others here at Drexel and to learn about different cultures and perspectives. 

 

I-Forum stands for Intercultural Forum—it’s a group of 40 to 50 university members, including faculty, professional staff and students. Members share both concerns and positive experiences with us and we report on what we’re doing to respond to the concerns of the University community on the issues of diversity and inclusion. It’s a strong group that has been quite active over the past four years. OED worked collaboratively with this group to put together a guide for being W.I.R.E.D. for Success, a primer that’s helpful to our community on interacting and working with different cultures.  W.I.R.E.D. stands for welcoming, inclusive, respectful, engaging and diverse.

 

If someone has an issue that they think is based on identity—race, religion, national origin, etc.—they should reach out to us. There are many ways the issue can be handled. Sometimes we just act as a resource to offer support or advice on how to move forward. In other instances, we use a formal mediation process to resolve issues. If mediation is not appropriate, we conduct an investigation, but the majority of our work is on a more informal and collaborative basis with the parties involved.

 

Every time we resolve an issue it contributes to a better environment. When I’m working with parties who have a conflict that we’re trying to resolve, I draw on the information I’ve learned from our engagement efforts or as part of the President’s Steering Committee on Diversity. Janet Fleetwood and I work together on different issues. She’s one of our primary partners in the Office of Diversity & Equality and I’m also a member of the President’s Diversity and Faculty Excellence Committee, which Janet leads. The committee works on a higher level looking at diversity and inclusion at Drexel.  We work collaboratively all the time.

 

Are there any new programs you’d like to highlight?

Through the work of the I-Forum, we’ve created a policy proposal for a resource network for affinity groups at Drexel, including the LGBT Faculty and Professional Staff Association and the Black Faculty and Professional Staff Association. We’re creating a policy to support those groups. I’m really excited about this. These groups are quite active and bring value and important information to the University.  They support our development as a diverse and inclusive community. For example, you don’t need to be LGBT to be a member of the LGBT Faculty and Professional Staff Association —you just need to be interested in the issues they are working to address.

 

Having a welcoming, inclusive, respectful, engaging and diverse community is a team approach. It takes the entire community to make an inclusive community. More people understand that diversity and inclusion bring value, but we can do more work to ensure that they understand that it takes intentionality to make that happen.

 

There are opportunities every day to make a big difference. When you’re in a meeting, actively include all members, invite them to have a voice, and acknowledge their voice.

When you’re inclusive, everyone benefits.

 

 

SIDEBAR: Janet Fleetwood

 

Janet Fleetwood, vice provost for strategic development and initiatives and director of the Office of Faculty Development & Equity, leads the President’s Steering Committee on Diversity, a cross-university initiative. Drexel Quarterly spoke with Fleetwood to learn more about the initiative and its goals.

 

As vice provost for strategic development and initiatives, and director of the Office of Faculty Development & Equity, can you explain how the efforts of the President’s Steering Committee on Diversity relates to Drexel’s goals? 

 

Outreach at all levels is important and diversity is a key value in Drexel’s Strategic Plan. From Michele’s Office of Equality & Diversity to the Office of Faculty Development & Equity, we want to make this a welcoming climate for everyone, whether professional staff, students, administration or faculty. We are comparable to other universities as far as our percentage of underrepresented minorities and women faculty in underrepresented areas, but we should try to do better. We want there to be plenty of role models as our student body becomes more and more diverse. We want the people in the front of the classroom to look a lot like the people who are in the seats.

 

Diversity is one of our central values in the University’s Strategic Plan, but prior to 2007, there was much less focus on diversity. Since 2007, the Office of Faculty Development & Equity was established and diversity became part of our academic plan. Then the Office of Equality & Diversity was established, and diversity efforts were broadened across the University. We’ve come a long way to making sure there are supportive policies, training and events.

 

What results have you seen since 2007?

 

We’ve seen an increase in the hiring of women and underrepresented minority faculty. In addition, in 2007 and 2010, we conducted faculty satisfaction and climate surveys. We were pleased to see that faculty didn’t report major problems in diversity and climate—things were going pretty well. Of course we can always do better, and we are working on some of the more subtle issues as we move ahead.

 

The remarkable thing is that we hadn’t even asked those questions before. It’s important just to be able to have data. We just didn’t know what was happening before, but what we found is that we started from a good place and can now continue to move forward.

 

The initiative has come from President Fry and Provost Mark Greenberg. The committee has an action plan. Our diversity goals are integrated into our regular University Strategic Plan implementation. We’re going make sure that our policies are implemented and our goals are met. We’re off and running.

 

In addition to broadening and tracking course offerings that address diversity issues, and providing training to academic leaders about diversity, we are very pleased that this fall’s Convocation will focus on diversity.  Our keynote speaker, a leader in national diversity efforts in higher education, and our own President are close colleagues and we are looking forward to learning from the very best.  Stay tuned – this year’s Convocation should be a special one for Drexel.