Vandy upgrades social justice offerings

The Dean of Students Office at Vanderbilt University will be expanding its diversity and social justice programs in order to “better support Vanderbilt’s rapidly changing student body”, according to the university’s website.

The reorganization and expansion was recently approved by Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos, and will be led by Associate Dean Frank Dobson. The resulting Office of Social Justice and Identity (SJAI) will “offer events, activities and trainings that both celebrate diversity and serve to educate Vanderbilt students on pertinent issues of social justice, identity and advocacy.”

The news release states that the reorganization is a response to discussions over the last two years, and aims to “address issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion.” The new structure adds to the initial reorganization implemented in the spring of 2015.

“Over the past decade, the composition of Vanderbilt’s student body has become more diverse in every aspect. Opportunity Vanderbilt has allowed us to recruit the very best students from across the nation and around the world. As a result, we are now a stronger, smarter and more culturally, racially, ethnically, economically and geographically diverse university,” Chancellor Zeppos said.

“We have a duty to ensure that our student services reflect the needs of all of our students, and these changes and new support resources represent an important investment in doing so.”

The Office of Social Justice and Identity (SJAI) currently consists of reorganized, pre-existing Dean of Students departments: The Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center, Inclusion Initiatives and Cultural Competence, the LGBTQI Center, the Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center, the Office of the University Chaplain and Religious Life, and Transitions, which serves first generation, transfer, and international students.

SJAI will advise and mentor current student leaders by meeting with them on a regular basis.

“Our students have engaged with us meaningfully and repeatedly over the past year on areas that they have identified as needing more resources and support,” Dobson said. “We believe this new organization, and the additional resources that will be dedicated to it, are an important investment in our students’ success and demonstrate our commitment to ensuring all students are welcomed, respected and have the opportunity to grow and succeed.”

Eight new positions will be created in response to the reorganization, and will “support diversity and inclusion programming and services” over the course of two years.

One of the newly created positions will lead the Inclusion Initiatives and Cultural Competence, which provides “cultural sensitivity training for students, faculty and staff.” Another new staff member will be added to the Office of the University Chaplain and Religious Life to “serve the religious and spiritual needs of African American students, based upon recommendations from the University Committee on Religious Affairs and a study by its working group.”

LGBTQI Life and the Women’s Center will also each hire a new program coordinator, while the new program coordinator for the Transitions program will be hired in the fall of 2017

Campus Reform reached out to Vanderbilt University for comment, but was directed back to the university’s press release for the university’s response to the Dean of Students’ services.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AutumnDawnPrice