A big part of inclusion on university campuses is ensuring that all groups of students feel seen, heard, and understood. That’s why it’s so essential for Higher Education (HE) professionals to take proactive steps and reach out to those who are in need of support.
GoodCourse Community Engagement Lead Kira Matthews spoke to Nahomi Carlisle, Associate Vice President and Chief Equity and Compliance Officer at Bunker Hill Community College, to speak about inclusion on diverse campuses, supporting students, and moving from compliance to proactivity.
I am the Associate Vice President and Chief Equity and Compliance Officer at Bunker Hill Community College. I primarily focus on equity work and making sure we are in compliance with all of the civil rights laws in Title IX.
I’m an attorney by trade, so I've always had the advocacy part in me, and being a Black female attorney comes with its own challenges. Then a few years back, I was told about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) work and wasn't sure that it was my calling because I didn't know anything about it — until I realized that I was living through it and that I could use it to help people on a greater scale. That's where my interest stemmed from. This is my first time working in HE and I love it because, as opposed to in the courtroom where you’re helping people after an incident, you can be more proactive in helping people to be successful. You can also help break generational curses and help people regardless of situations and environments that they've been in previously, so I find it really rewarding.
As lawyers, we seek justice, and HE is about preparing people for life — it’s the same goal but at a different point in someone's life. Law is everywhere, and we all have to follow laws, so on a practical compliance level, my law experience is helpful in HE to make sure we are following the law. But it's also about looking at moral aspects and being intentional about making people feel included so that they can succeed.
I think it’s about getting to know people and understanding different cultures. You must first understand that you don't know everything and then be open to learning more. I try to ensure there’s representation within meetings across the board and that members of our student affinity groups come into meetings and tell us firsthand what they need and what is happening in their community.
It’s about making people feel engaged and like they have the power to speak up, and us being accountable when they ask us for assistance or tell us that something needs to change.
Of course, it’s possible to read about the experience of others, but I cannot fully understand what they’ve been through, so connecting with them and hearing how we can support them is necessary. It’s also about making people feel engaged and like they have the power to speak up, and us being accountable when they ask us for assistance or tell us that something needs to change.
I'd say the Student Activities department and the Dean of Students Office are key here because they have the most direct access to the students. We are constantly looking for ways to make students feel seen, such as looking at what holidays are coming up and finding ways to celebrate with them. A lot of people are away from their homes and their families, so making students feel at home within the college is a priority for us. We have a lot of work to do and a lot of opportunities, but we’re always in the process of improving, and we have a lot of great cultural programming and activities available.
We also try to reach out whenever there is a crisis to say we’re here to support vulnerable groups. Those aspects of connection build up a bigger picture of inclusion and belonging. Post-Covid, we have some students on campus and some online, so we’re always thinking about how we can be creative in how we reach out to people and make people feel less isolated after the pandemic.
The issue with compliance is that we are all held to a standard, but we don't have the training to understand what’s okay and what isn’t, so I’m trying to implement more training opportunities to help with this. It also helps people understand different cultures as much as possible because what is and isn't acceptable varies between cultures. However, when we are able to see the differences in our diverse campus as beautiful, then we can work on coming to understand one another.
Look at the bigger picture. HE is not as highly paid as it could be, but we have such an opportunity to make an impact and shift the trajectory of people's lives. It’s difficult, but the benefits outweigh the cost.
I admire my boss a lot, the president of Bunker Hill, and her attitude to what she does. Whenever we have issues she wants to figure out a way to fix it, and with that support, we are able to move forward very quickly and successfully.
How to Get to Yes. It talks about how to get people to understand your perspective and how to understand the perspective of others. A lot of people just want the same thing, and we could get there if we could understand what the other side was saying.