Framingham State University is the newest member of the Leading for Change Higher Education Diversity Consortium – a collaborative effort headed by Bridgewater State University (BSU) with goals to implement measurable improvements in diversity across campuses.
“It’s exciting because it gives us something concrete to wrap our hands around,” said Rita Colucci chief of staff and General Counsel as well as organizer of the consortium at FSU. “It gives us this automatic network of other schools who are working on doing the same stuff.”
In June, BSU held a two-day conference called Leading for Change: Diversity Practices in Higher Education. It was attended by 214 participants representing 48 higher education institutions throughout New England. This conference allowed a platform for BSU to display its diversity practices, and enabled brainstorming for diversity initiatives among all participating universities.
BSU worked with diversity experts from Bristol Community College, Emerson College, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and UMass Amherst to expand the diversity efforts, and created the Leading for Change Higher Education Diversity Consortium.
Fifteen higher education institutions have joined the consortium since its formation in June. FSU joined in September.
“The participating campuses will deeply benefit by working together to learn from one another regarding ways to support our students through effective diversity practices,” said Sabrina Gentlewarrior, director of institutional diversity at BSU.
In his past several months as president of FSU, F. Javier Cevallos has said that the University must move from a values-based approach to a data oriented focus.
Cevallos noted the importance of “building a model that will allow us to track and assess our gains in a number of indicators related to diversity, such as gaps in graduation and retention rates.”
Colucci said, “We’ve been doing a lot of programs. We bring in a lot of speakers. The diversity committee funds people to go to diversity conferences to work on diversity-related topics or projects. So we’ve done a lot of work but we haven’t measured what the outcomes of our work are.”
Alyssa Trybus, member of Latinos in Action, said, “It will be interesting to see what best practices FSU implements here, but I think we already have a good start with not only diverse employees and groups, but also with new lectures and discussions open to the campus about diversity.”
She added, “FSU has strong community values, and by joining this consortium, FSU has created an even larger community with the other institutions. … I am glad that FSU has joined this group of both private and public institutions, because, although we may have quite a diverse campus now, we will have a concrete way to measure the diversity.”
The consortium operates by measuring “diversity benchmarks.” Specific areas of attention include retention and graduation rates of race minorities, Pell-eligible students, first generation students and other minority groups, which are analyzed and used for decision-making based on this evaluation.
“It’s not just about gathering data,” Colucci said. “It’s about gathering data, knowing what’s going on at your own school and then taking measures to address whatever problems you may find. It will definitely nail down some data that we weren’t measuring in the past.”
She said, for example, “If we find out our population of Pell-eligible students isn’t graduating at rates as high as their other peers, then, hopefully, that will prompt some action towards putting resources or attention towards Pell-eligible students.”
Francesco Servello, member of the Pride Alliance, said, “I believe that any organization that promotes the success of students from diverse backgrounds is essential. The consortium’s efforts to make the results of such diversity efforts transparent are what struck me the most.”
It is unknown what long-term costs this initiative will have on the University, but Colucci said that costs depend on what the University decides to implement based on the information they receive from the data.
“If there are costs associated with this, they are costs toward a goal that we all share anyways, which is the education of our students,” she said.
There is no cost to join the consortium. “With a lot of groups and consortiums, you have to pay to be a part of it. There’s no cost at this time to be a part of Bridgewater’s consortium.” Colucci said. “They [BSU] don’t really get anything out of this. They’re doing it because they’re interested in diversity.”
Gentlewarrior said BSU is “grateful to President Cevallos for agreeing to have Framingham State University join the Leading for Change Consortium.
“I recently had a conversation with the President and his cabinet regarding the consortium and was deeply impressed by their commitment to issues of equity in higher education. The consortium is strengthened by Framingham State University’s involvement in it.”
Currently, there is no student involvement in the program, but Gentlewarrior said, “Identifying ways to actively involve students in the consortium is being discussed.”
Several students around campus are showing interest in the consortium and its benefits.
“When I look around at FSU, especially in the dinning commons, I see different ethnic groups and people of different interests sitting apart from each other,” said Shaniece Foreman, a member of the Black Student Union. “I feel that this is a great initiative, because the more you are able to expand your group of friends without any fear of rejection, the more you are able to learn through their life lessons.”
Some students think that the separation of groups of students can be remedied by the consortium’s efforts.
“I think that joining forces in this way is great, and the more that we can do to help raise awareness, the better,” said Kendall Valente, President of SGA. “I think that the more people that are involved to help combat the issues, the more we can do. So, I think that this will be a huge benefit for us in the long run.”
Naomi Garcia, a member of the Black Student Union, said, “I think that joining this consortium would better the University overall by showing current and prospective students that diversity is as relevant as academic excellence and future success – which is what we all want for ourselves after graduation.”