The journey to inclusion on university campuses is ever-ongoing, and meeting the needs of all students is a huge undertaking. But these efforts are moving in the right direction thanks to the work done by passionate and inspired Higher Education (HE) leaders.
GoodCourse Universities Lead Kitty Hadaway sat down with Adanna J. Johnson, Associate Vice President (VP) for Student Equity and Inclusion and Head of the Office of Student Equity and Inclusion (OSEI) at Georgetown University, Washington DC. They talk about the importance of financial inclusivity, intersectionality and allyship on university campuses, as well as some of the pioneering and innovative work she has done during her time in HE.
My current role is in student equity and inclusion, an umbrella for the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access, the Community Scholars Program, the LGBTQ Resource Center, and the Women’s Center. The office didn’t exist when I started working here; I created a proposal and said we needed a proper office. This was after eight months in the role of Senior Associate Dean of Students; Director of Diversity, Equity and Student Success, where I didn’t have the strength of connection and resources to do what I wanted to do.
Before coming to Georgetown, I was a professor for twelve years at public and private institutions. My Ph.D. is in counselling and psychology, which has strong roots in multicultural psychology. This has given me an excellent foundation for navigating the landscape of a diverse society.
At my last institution I was tenured in psychology, and conducted the African and African American studies program, as well as racial justice workshops for faculty staff. Learning how students needed help through this role led me to take up this position at Georgetown.
My department has a lot of facetime with students. When those who spend the most time with them understand equity and belonging, students benefit. A current proposal of mine is for restorative circles for our student-facing colleagues in managerial positions, to create a sense of community. Without that, we cannot face interpersonal and institutional issues in meaningful ways.
In my previous role, we didn’t have that — we hosted workshops that created more questions than answers. My interest in the restorative circle approach is that when colleagues can practice self-reflection in those spaces, we can then go on as a collective unit to address other issues like microaggressions and perceived biases.
I am also trying to dig deeper into the experiences of first-generation low-income students and gain a more nuanced understanding of the financial needs per discipline. For example, we had a Covid response fund which all students could apply for. We received more than 1000 applications and distributed this money in tiers of funding based on the income of the student or their family. This led me to think students should have this kind of support all the time, and I do believe this is possible.
More money has now been budgeted for financial aid, our biggest increase in a long time, and there are some bigger ways we’re trying to address the economic needs of students.
It will be a case of waiting for the upheaval of current processes to be figured out, after which we can address this issue of financial aid again.
We joined the initiative through our work with the Community Scholars Program which started in 1968, in an attempt to engage high school students of colour in the DC area to matriculate at Georgetown.
My key focus here will be on the intersections of race, class, and gender, to tie in with the focus on first-generation low-income students. This can include racialized minorities, sexual orientation, gender identity, and many more. Our presence at ATI bring in those intersections. There is such a continuum of experience and we don’t want to miss the nuances of identity in our work.
We had a Covid response fund which all students could apply for. We received more than 1000 applications and distributed this money in tiers of funding based on the income of the student or their family.
One of the key conversations we brought to the table recently was that of the trans student experience. Although many may not traditionally meet the criteria for first-generation low-income, and our traditional means of calculating aid don’t cover it, they may be experiencing other situations that require help and must be accounted for.
The focus is on people talking and getting to know one another. People often want to skip that part and get to the heart of the matter, but I believe allyship is a daily practice. It requires a lot of self-reflection and commitment; what you did 10 years ago as an ally doesn’t mean you are showing up today. It must be ongoing.
I’ll use myself as an example. I am a Black woman, middle class, highly educated, cisgender, and heterosexual. So I know what it means to be oppressed and targeted as a Black woman, but there’s also privilege because I’m cisgender and heterosexual. It’s my job to be aware of that privilege all the time. True allyship means I stand up in spaces where I have privilege in any of my identities. It is hard work in this world, but we have an opportunity to do this work in HE where we engage with people of so many backgrounds and identities.
Develop a strong foundation of self-care and self-awareness. Have a daily practice, go to therapy, and be strongly rooted in who you are. If you don’t know your values and what centers you in this work, you will burn out, but with a strong center, the difficulties of the work won’t affect you in the same way.
Harriet Tubman. I often think of her ability to put herself repeatedly in danger for the freedom of others. She was persistent and very powerful, rooted in her own understanding of who she was and what her purpose was. Whenever I feel downtrodden, I think of her and know I can go back again.
The Healers by Ayi Kwei Armah. He writes such beautiful passages about the work of healers being deep, arduous work that requires you to see yourself as the foundation for being able to heal others. I’ve used this a lot in my work, and I think it’s full of such powerful knowledge for those trying to affect change in the world.