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Connective Issues: A UMass Chan diversity and inclusion blog

Committee on Equal Opportunity and Diversity to focus on advocacy, service and education at UMass Chan

Tuesday, March 15, 2022
By:  Janjay Innis

Last month, Lynn Hernandez, PhD, associate vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion, presented a restructuring plan for the Committee on Equal Opportunity and Diversity (CEOD) at UMass Chan Medical School. Since its inception more than 25 years ago, the CEOD, through its nine subcommittees, has made recommendations to the chancellor and the Diversity and Inclusion Office for the development of an inclusive and just institution. The CEOD has done significant work promoting education and awareness through professional and personal growth opportunities, but like any entity that has enjoyed such impressive longevity, an assessment of its mission, vision and goals is necessary to ensure effectiveness, particularly in changing times.

At a recent DIO staff meeting, Lynn Hernandez
led a discussion of the evolution of the CEOD.

The CEOD will now operate with three subcommittees. The advocacy group will advocate for the needs of those with marginalized identities; the service group will provide opportunities for members of the UMass Chan community to serve, engage and collaborate with community partners; and the education group will enhance awareness and understanding of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice. These subcommittees will each be co-chaired by a member of the Diversity and Inclusion Office and a nominated member. Affinity groups, which made up half of the subcommittees in the CEOD, will become standalone entities to foster community through a support network of mentors, allies, and peers. All members of the UMass Chan community are welcome to propose affinity groups to the Diversity and Inclusion Office, with the key requirement being that they be based on shared goals or experiences. Affinity groups are simply a place to belong and do not require any policy action; however, when appropriate they can define opportunities for engagement with DEI policies and procedures.

The Diversity and Inclusion Office has received comments expressing concern that the work that has defined the CEOD over the past quarter century might be diminished in the new structure and that affinity groups will be a place of exclusion for white people.

Such sentiments, all too common across institutions that earnestly seek to address issues of diversity, are akin to the perspective that psychologist, administrator, and educator Beverly Tatum discusses in her book, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? In an interview with Minnesota Public Radio celebrating the 20-year anniversary of the book, Tatum said that when people asked, “Why are all the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?” it was often in a tone that would suggest, “. . . and what can we do to prevent it?

Tatum’s well-meaning audience deemed gatherings around shared identity—particularly around race—as purposeful segregation, which can intensify chasms of division. Though the sentiment seems noble, it misses the mark because it fails to see gatherings around shared identities as spaces of empowerment, especially for marginalized groups. All members of the UMass Chan community are welcome to join affinity groups even if they do not identify with a group as hearing one another’s stories with a posture of learning and listening allows us to be better allies to one another in and out of the workplace.

As we lean further into being an equitable campus, we will often encounter moments of discomfort. However, remembering what we collectively value will help push us toward growth. On the other side of our growing edges is a new reality. At UMass Chan, we will foster a community and create best practices for diversity, equity, and inclusion that others will model.

Janjay Innis covers
diversity, equity and
topics at UMass
Chan Medical School.