Indiana Tech's Lisa Givan shares how 2020 shaped her team's thinking on DEI and 'belonging'

It’s been said that People of Color are experiencing two pandemics simultaneously: The coronavirus and the consequences of systemic racism.

Indiana Tech’s Vice President for Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Belonging and Chief Diversity Officer, Lisa Givan, is acutely aware of that reality. That’s why her team has responded with many programs and initiatives designed to support the emotional needs of the campus's ethnically diverse student population.

Givan's office is charged with an overarching goal of developing a vibrant, inclusive, and diverse culture, which connects all of Indiana Tech's campuses and locations. That work looks a bit different during a global pandemic, however. 

Reflecting on the events of the last year, Input Fort Wayne sat down with Givan to learn more about the university’s commitment to ensure that all students are welcomed, seen, heard, valued, and supported.

IFW: Earlier this month, you virtually attended the 15th annual National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education conference, keynoted by Stacey Abrams. What were some key takeaways from the experience?

LG: One of the speakers, the University of Michigan’s Vice Provost for Equity and Inclusion, Dr. Robert Sellers, said that diversity is the key to academic excellence. I think that really resonated with me, because so many times, people don't equate those two together. He really took a deep dive and explained how you get better problem-solving skills and creative solutions when you're doing knowledge-sharing within and among diverse groups. 

Another interesting point he made was that diversity, equity, and inclusion costs about $85 million a year because it's institutionalized. It’s everyone's job; it's not just part of one office. That really resonated with me. We’re definitely not the University of Michigan in size or stature. We're a small place, and there are so many moving parts. Still, we all have to own diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. 

IFW: How has your role at the university evolved during the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter Movement?

LG: I think we had to really look in the mirror and immerse ourselves in the moment. We had to shift under the premise that what affects one, affects all. And what we were witnessing was in a context where there was a lot of fear and distrust with the government and in healthcare. 

In response, we really had to look at things and come together as a university. While COVID initiatives were being headed by the VP of Student Affairs and our human resources team, my office was kind of taking the lead on Black Lives Matter initiatives. It was at this moment that we had to go back to Indiana Tech’s values. We have to take care of our own and take care of our community because Indiana Tech is inside of Fort Wayne, Indiana. So while we're taking care of us, we had to make sure that if and when our students protest on or off campus, they’re still protected. 

So, I think it really just leaves my role more collaborative, in nature. We did it without even thinking. It was just what we needed to do as a university that believes that higher ed is truly a business. We're in the business of educating students.

Lisa Givan and a student at a cultural event on campus

IFW:  What kinds of initiatives is Indiana Tech implementing to support students of color/improve Fort Wayne, overall?

LG: I think one thing worth noting is that our entire leadership team is participating in United Front. I really, really believe in it. And while I tend to be protective when it comes to diversity and inclusion, I investigated it and determined this is where we really want to align. I support United Front with everything I have, and I'm glad to see our university and our regional and community partners doing the same. 

Another initiative that we’re working on is related to funding from an Eli Lilly grant, which targets women and minorities in STEM. So we're doing the work in implementing that. We had faculty go through a training series last summer and many are infusing diversity into their curriculum and figuring out how to bring other lenses into the classroom. 

Externally, we've partnered with a couple of different agencies. For instance, we have a STEM camp going on. A few of our faculty members are participating in this next week with the organization Girlz Rock

We also do regular work with other organizations. It’s important to us that we try to give back and show our students a little bit more of the Black community. Sometimes that means supporting lesser-known organizations. 

Last, we have a new Assistant Director in our office, so we've added a position that works specifically on student programming and training. We have some new training initiatives that are going to be rolled out soon. So there’s a lot of positive momentum going on.

IFW: How will you define or measure the success of these efforts?

LG: For some institutions who are solely focused on the data, you either have diversity or you don't. It's simply a numbers game. But I think what makes us unique is that we're developing a sense of belonging here. And an improved sense of belonging will have a positive impact on people's lived experiences while they're on our campus.

With marginalized populations especially, we have to look at it through the lens of retention. They may come to campus, but do they ultimately stay? There's a real need to fill gaps, especially at certain times, like between a student's sophomore and junior year when they may be more likely to drop out. 

In short, if we're telling them come home to Indiana Tech, and we're all about unity and everything, we have to make them feel like that. So it was really critical for us to listen to all voices and not make any of us feel different. Because if we don't practice it in good times, we can't practice it in bad times.
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