Center for Inclusive Excellence helps increase student affinity group engagement

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the Center for Inclusive Excellence (CIE) has continued to work with student affinity groups to ensure a continuation of diversity and inclusion efforts.

Patricia Birch, director of inclusive excellence initiatives, said the CIE has been “flexible and adaptable in providing programs to students, faculty, and staff” in order to increase their “engagement and opportunity to grow and learn.” 

Birch said outreach and advertising for CIE events has been accomplished through Ramlink, individual emails, and the Center’s Instagram page. 

She added student affinity groups have been a major component of outreach and advertising.

Rachel Spivey, a junior political science major and IGNITE president, said, “Diversity and inclusion means recognizing that not everyone is the same.

“In IGNITE, we recognize that politics were traditionally a male-dominated field – it can deter female political ambition. So, our goal is to give women the tools that they need to become professionals in the political field,” she said. 

Spivey added, “The CIE is not only a welcoming space on campus, but also houses a number of resources for students who are looking to become more engaged with the diverse groups and offerings we have on campus.”

She said IGNITE currently meets virtually every two weeks and has been holding online events, including a tie-dye T-shirt event, a trivia night, and a documentary screening.

“The CIE has offered to help sponsor our events as they have in the past, which we are looking forward to planning for the spring semester!” Spivey added.

She said students typically assume IGNITE is a “club solely for women and solely about politics because the club is focused on creating a more positive narrative for female ambition in politics.”

However, Spivey said IGNITE has had male members, some of whom served on their eBoard. She added the organization is always accepting new members, and information can be found on Ramlink for prospective members.

Emily Pacheco, senior ASL major and president of the ASL Club, said the CIE fits with their organization’s mission because they “recognize the Deaf culture and community as a marginalized community.”

She said the ASL Club “is committed to bringing Deaf culture and the community to our campus and helping educate and dismantle the ignorance or audism that exists in the world.”

She added the CIE is a space to discuss and bring “awareness to the Deaf community and the use of ASL and accessibility.”

Pacheco said student engagement has been more difficult than past semesters and that the ASL Club was on hiatus for the fall 2020 semester. 

For the fall semester, ASL Club worked with the CIE to put on three lectures from Deaf members of the community. Pacheco said each Zoom session had approximately 100 attendees. 

She acknowledged the CIE was a factor in the success of the ASL Club this semester. 

“They [the CIE] truly supported our ideas and the speakers we wanted to bring to campus, and helped with funding and advertising,” Pacheco said. “Collaborating with them truly kept us motivated to return to active status in the spring 2021 semester.” 

For the spring semester, the ASL Club will return to biweekly meetings, and also plans to continue collaborating with the CIE to host guest presenters as well as their own Deaf History Month event in March. 

Lidia Flores, a junior English major and co-president of Latinos Unidos ‘N Acción (LUNA), said the CIE “is a place where everyone can be diverse together, no matter who you are.”

She said, “Everyone is helpful and will make sure that you are covered with anything you need. No matter what background you are, you are welcome!”

Flores said LUNA is currently inactive for the fall semester, but they worked with the CIE during Hispanic Heritage Month. 

She said LUNA’s mission is to “spread awareness for the Latinx community, and welcome anyone who desires to learn more. We want to make sure that everyone on campus is taken care of and is doing all right during their academic year.” 

Flores said LUNA is still working on what their organization will look like during the spring semester, but plans to be more active and hopes to host more events. 

Laury Constantin, a junior business management major and the artistic director of Motivation. Intersectionality. Solidarity. Sisterhood. (M.I.S.S.), said the CIE is “a safe haven where my peers and I are able to express ourselves without limitations.”

She said, “The CIE gives us the space to connect on a more personal level, which allows members to get a real feel of how M.I.S.S. works and how we all play a significant role in the group to create something beautiful together.”

Constantin added M.I.S.S.’s engagement has declined significantly since the pandemic, but they have used Zoom, Instagram, and text messaging to engage their members. 

Ewnie Fedna, a senior finance major and co-president of M.I.S.S., said the CIE is their organization’s “home.” 

Fedna said, “Diversity and inclusion for M.I.S.S. is accepting all women from all backgrounds and offering a space where they feel safe.”

She said M.I.S.S. has not yet finalized their spring semester plans, but they have potential ideas that they are excited about. 

Ariana Nunez, a junior psychology major and vice-president of Brother to Brother (B2B), said they have had regular biweekly meetings through Zoom, which is a change from their typical meetings every Thursday. 

She said, “The CIE has been supportive when it came to this big transition by checking in with us eBoard members and keeping us in the loop regarding events they hold as well.”

Nunez said student engagement has shifted and as the semester progressed, B2B saw a large decrease in the number of participants.

Looking toward the spring semester, Nunez said, “B2B plans on becoming bigger, better, and stronger for the spring semester.” 

She added, “B2B welcomes anyone and everyone with open arms, and the CIE is a great resource not just for clubs and organizations, but also for schooling and any other support needed.” 

Isaiah Hanks, a junior communication arts major and secretary of B2B, said, “Operating virtually has been a struggle, but we are learning how to cope with the struggles week by week.

“We want to continue to keep our members and the people who are committed to our organization engaged with everything that is going on, and we want to continue to evolve and expand our organization even more.”

He added, “We just can’t wait until we are in-person again so we can show everybody how much we have grown as an organization and finally show how great the CIE is and can be.”

Constanza Cabello, vice president of diversity, inclusion, and community engagement, said she is in “awe” of students who are continuing to engage with each other and the community.

“On my Instagram, I’ll log in once a day and scroll through and see the different conversations that are happening, or the ways that students are really showing up and supporting each other, or the ways that they’re doing advocacy,” she said. 

“A lot of times, I feel like these student groups labor for the institution – and oftentimes, unpaid labor – and it’s labor that they don’t have to do, but they do because they care about it. I think it just speaks so much to the character of the leaders in these organizations.”

For student organizations looking to improve the diversity and inclusion within their group, Cabello said they should first ask themselves, “Who isn’t a part of your organization? What identities are missing? How might we inadvertently be creating an environment that doesn’t welcome different people?” 

She said student organizations need to look critically at themselves and ask, “Who is not represented here?”  

Birch praised student affinity groups for their “fantastic” work during the fall semester. 

She added, “There’s a lot of things happening on campus, a lot of ways in which you can tap into resources. Also using each other, the student affinity groups, in and of themselves – those students have expertise in certain areas as well.

“So, please don’t overlook the expertise that exists right among your peers as well,” Birch said.