UNCW Chancellor discusses efforts to tackle diversity, equity, and inclusion challenges with Board of Trustees
Over the past decade, the University of North Carolina Wilmington has had the fastest-growing student population in the UNC System at 39%. But the number of students and faculty of color coming to the university still lags behind state averages.
Chancellor Sartarelli gave a report to the Board of Trustees on Friday, July 16th. One of the main components Sartarelli covered: the university’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusivity (DEI) initiatives. He also illustrated how these would be implemented in the new strategic plan.
“The ones in red are the strategic plan 2.0 that we've added after some of the issues that we had last year, with our students of color, particularly Black students. And so we are trying to be very specific, and have goals and metrics that address some of the many needs that are identified for us, which we're pursuing very vigorously, and with lots of heart to it," Sartarelli said, referring to the strategic plan layout pictured below.
DEI: Challenges and tensions
The issue of racial equity and diversity on UNCW campus has been a contentious one. Late last year, the faculty senate censured Sartarelli over his initial lack of support for a Black Lives Matter display and a "lack of leadership on the matter of Diversity and Inclusion." The move was largely a formality — Sartarelli was in no danger of being removed by the UNC system — but it did show how tense the situation had become. The UNCW Board of Trustees fired back shortly afterward, backing Sartarelli.
Around the same time, news broke that UNCW had settled a federal racial discrimination lawsuit that seemed to spark a more vigorous public commitment to equity and diversity on campus.
Dr. Donyell Roseboro is UNCW’s interim chief diversity officer. She also gave a presentation to the Board of Trustees on the strategic goals the university has for diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus.
She said there's a difference between the number of minority students showing up to campus for classes -- and those who take them online. She said these courses are often more accessible for students because they’re “often working or have families”, but she said she doesn’t want them turning away from the university because they “don’t feel a sense of belonging. We want to make sure that we take care of that climate on campus to make sure that they feel like an on-campus option is really a true option for them.”
While the university has committed to expanding and renovating the space for the Upperman African American Center, Centro Hispano, and the Mohin-Scholz LGBTQIA Resource Office, the campus, according to both Roseboro and Sartarelli, has to continue improving this sense of “belonging” on behalf of minority students.
For example, Sartarelli cited a freshmen student climate survey that asked students if they felt they belonged on campus based on racial, ethnic, and sexual identities — 62% of white students strongly agreed, compared to only 9% of Black students.
Trustee Chair Gidget Kidd asked Sartarelli and his staff for more specifics on diversity recruitment.
“Is there a goal? I know that’s ongoing, and what would that look like? And with everybody, we want everyone to feel comfortable here, regardless of the color of their skin or their ethnicity, we want them to belong.”
Roseboro said the UNC System has about 20% Black students, close to the state’s 22% Black population. The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and East Carolina University, according to Roseboro, report that 16% of their student populations are Black.
UNCW’s Black student population has hovered around 6% over the past five years. And this rate has remained relatively the same since 1976.
Representation vs. 'quality'
Donyell Roseboro said in her presentation to the Board that the university’s ultimate goal is to have the student body reflect more of the state’s overall Black population:
“So at the very least, we need to be more aligned with the proportionality of the state. And so we are looking at how do we increase that proportionality without getting fixated on numbers? Because we don't want to be pulled in…”
Board Chair Gidget Kidd interjected while Roseboro was speaking: “We still want to maintain the quality of our students.” To which Roseboro responded, “Correct.”
But Board of Trustee Member Malcomb Coley said he wanted to be “extremely careful” about questioning the quality of Black students as the university tries to recruit more of them. He said he wanted to keep the questions of representation and quality separate.
“Because we don’t question the quality of the majority when they are more than their proportionately by saying we got less qualified people in these roles. I would say, let's continue towards that goal. But I would say the two questions should be totally mutually exclusive because it sends a false impression that we may be sacrificing quality when we're not,” said Coley.
Roseboro commented that the university still has some work to do when it comes to defining ‘quality’, but she said the university is looking for students who “have had a multitude of experiences” and that they’re “trying to attract first-generation college students” so that they can bring “a different perspective, different value to the university. [...] We do know that diversity improves our ability to be creative, and imagine differently as a campus and a world.”
New initiatives — and more work to do
Unveiled in June 2021, the “Because It’s Time” artwork by Dare Coulter showcases the message that Black lives matter, and during the meeting, Roseboro highlighted the recent installation and commented that, “We decided as an institution, we don't necessarily need to be affiliated or should be affiliated with a particular movement, but that we do have principles and core values and we certainly want our Black faculty, staff, and students to know that their lives matter.”
Roseboro said she and the ‘Accountability Committee’ -- developed by the chancellor last July to advance diversity and inclusion — had to be honest with the pushback emerging from some in the community:
“For whatever reason, diversity, equity inclusion can be considered controversial. It can be considered difficult to discuss. And it can create a lot of pain. So when we first started talking about developing a focus, intentional effort to re-vision our spaces on campus, from a DEI perspective, it was very serious for us,” said Roseboro.
And Roseboro said it’s not just the Black student population that is low. There are also some major deficits in the teaching faculty. Only about 4% of the faculty are Black (The current university goal is to have at least 50 of these faculty members.) But Roseboro said since the university committed to improving these rates, they’ve started to see some change:
“I would point to the College of Arts and Sciences, a very specific cluster hire initiative. They had six positions they advertised this past year, they were all focused on bringing in faculty from underrepresented populations. And they were very successful in doing that,” said Roseboro.
But Chancellor Sartarelli said there’s more “intentional work” to do: “We've got many departments that have no faculty of color, period. We haven't had it for years. I'm not blaming the department, but every chair should be thinking, if I have an open position, I want to bring in a top professor of color.”
Roseboro outlined for the Board some examples of how specifically the university could recruit a diverse faculty. She said first they need to understand what the market availability is for each “discipline area in terms of diverse candidates.” So then they can look at the data throughout the entire hiring process, which she said will help them improve their chances of hiring a more diverse staff.
Roseboro added that the Office of Diversity and Inclusion is working with the Office of Institutional Research and Planning to create “a more accessible dashboard for diversity, equity, and inclusion.” She mentioned, too, that the data is “not publicly accessible, and we have plenty of data that should be accessible to the public.”
Roseboro’s understanding of this comes from serving, as she said, on many search committees for future faculty and staff. She said understanding the language in this search process is integral to getting more faculty of color to commit to working at the university. Roseboro said sometimes the language can be “unintentionally discriminatory” like when there’s mention about whether “someone is either a good fit for the institution or not.”
Another barrier, she said, can be a candidate of color coming from a university where there aren’t as many opportunities to publish their studies. So they might not come from a “[...] Research I Institution with faculty who published within that structure automatically disadvantages other students who might not come from a Research I and whose faculty did not publish with them and didn’t offer those opportunities. They could have the same potential for scholarship but not necessarily had the opportunity.”
Another strategy, according to Roseboro, could be having consistency between the way prospective faculty and staff are treated: “But we often take people out to eat in a faculty or an administrative search. And then with staff, not always, they just come and go through the interview process. But if we are truly trying to cultivate a sense of family here, that you’re not just joining UNCW as a professional, but it’s a family, so those processes should be similar.”
And Roseboro shared a more personal anecdote about faculty of color leaving the institution in the past. She said that the climate “has to be good because we’ve gotten some people here and they’ve turned around two years later and said, ‘No, this is not a place where I feel welcome or my family feels welcome, so I can’t stay here.’”
Some of the other initiatives, the chancellor said, that will help improve diversity on campus: a new bachelor's degree in Africana Studies, which he said he hoped to gain approval for this week.
And there’s a $1 million scholarship fund being established for diverse students. The university has raised around $700,000 toward that scholarship goal. Furthermore, according to Roseboro, the chancellor has committed $500,000 for additional scholarships for underrepresented students on campus. She said that the Office of Admissions and the Office of Financial Aid are working to distribute that money to about 172 students as of July 16th.
Below is the Chancellor's Report: