Daring Forward: How Seattle U is Changing Its Ways to Welcome Diversity

Posted by Miranda Benson, '17 on Thursday, November 3, 2016 at 11:32 AM PDT


Seattle University Chief Diversity Officer Natasha Martin

 

Whether you attended Seattle University in the 1960s or the 2010s, you probably had many discussions during your time here about diversity. While the 125th anniversary of SU celebrates our diverse past, it also looks to create a more diverse Seattle U in the future. Leading the movement towards a more inclusive university is Chief Diversity Officer Natasha Martin and the Task Force on Diversity and Inclusive Excellence.

Natasha is no stranger to topics of diversity. As she explains it, “My life experiences as a black female lawyer turned law professor and someone who deeply cares about these issues informs my work.” Natasha is an associate professor of law here at SU and her professional background lies in employment discrimination law. She’s served twice on the Washington State Gender and Justice Commission and on the Advisory Board for the Lutie Lytle Black Female Law Professors Writing Workshop. Her breadth of experience was one of the reason she was named co-chair (along with Dr. Alvin Sturdivant, Associate Vice President for Student Development) of the Task Force on Diversity and Inclusive Excellence. This task force was asked to find out how Seattle U could become more diverse and inclusive, particularly towards women, people of color and other marginalized groups. But how you incorporate diversity into the everyday campus life of a university with over 7,000 students is a challenge—which is where the Campus Climate Survey comes in.

Known around campus as “the big important survey,” the Campus Climate Survey measured just that. It observed the current state of how students, faculty and staff felt about the campus environment, paying particular attention to which groups were and were not welcome. And the timing of the survey was no accident—for the past few years, students at colleges and universities around the country have been increasingly asking for their voices to be heard and considered in major university decisions. “The events on college campuses (as well as our own) are calls for us as institutions of higher learning to think critically about the fullness of the experiences of all of those that are connected to our institution,” Natasha explains. “There is no more important time for SU to engage and address issues of diversity and inclusion head-on.”

Over 2,600 students, faculty and staff took “the big important survey” in winter of 2016, and in the spirit of transparency, its 300-plus pages of results are available to the public (you can read them here).  But what do you do with over 300 pages of hard data?

You turn to experts like Natasha and the Task Force on Diversity and Inclusive Excellence to analyze it. And after months of work, they boiled the survey results down to this: “Seattle University campus climate findings are consistent with those found in higher education institutions across the country… [But] a slightly higher percentage of respondents (28%) indicated that they personally had experienced inclusionary, intimidating, offensive and/or hostile conduct.”

In short, Seattle U students, faculty and staff feel pretty comfortable on our campus—but with 28% of respondents having experienced exclusionary conduct, we still have work to do. Natasha summed up her take: “In many respects, there were no big surprises in the findings, which were consistent with qualitative experiences captured through [the task force’s] work. [But] it seems that we are being challenged to think about what it means to be in community.”

Natasha believes the view of alumni are key to this work. “Your relationship with us doesn’t end upon completing your education… I want to engage alumni because not only does your ‘rearview mirror’ experience provide helpful insight, but your partnership and collaboration will greatly assist us in making Seattle University a truly welcoming environment for all and build sustaining relationships for years to come.”

Armed with the Climate Survey results and a clear picture of who the community includes, Natasha and the task force next needed to ask: how can we become a better community? How can we become more diverse, more tolerant and more welcoming to each other? The task force’s final report proposes an answer with a clear way to measure results. It’s a roadmap for Seattle U in the coming years and at the end is a new goal: for SU to become a place where diversity is taught, welcomed and so ingrained in what we do that it becomes second nature.

The final report’s recommendations are already in motion: Natasha’s appointment to the role of chief diversity officer was a key suggestion of the task force. Natasha is the first to hold this role, but she has high hopes for it: “The point [of my role] is to have point-leadership to focus on capacity-building and organizational infrastructure in order to embed inclusive excellence in all aspects of the SU experience.” And Father Stephen Sundborg, university president, will do whatever it takes to bring her vision to life. “I am committed to making sure she has the resources and the strong support of university leadership needed for this important work,” he told the university community in an email this spring.

Father Steve’s first step? Bringing Natasha onto the Mission Examen committee. The Mission Examen is a thorough review of the university’s mission, particularly in relation to our Jesuit identity, which is being conducted this year in tandem with our 125th anniversary. The examen will look at benchmarks (like the Campus Climate Survey results as well as our community engagement and service) and will create goals for the university’s future. It takes the Jesuit idea of reflection and self-assessment and applies it to the university as a whole.

Natasha is looking forward to her work on the Mission Examen committee and continuing to build the chief diversity officer role. She’s particularly hopeful that alumni will lead the charge in becoming a more welcoming and diverse community. “It’s hard, complex work, for sure, but ‘daring forward’ is the motto for this year,” she explains. “My hope is that together we can lay the groundwork to add new texture to the future of our institution that aims to ensure that diversity and inclusion are what it means to be academically excellent and significantly transformative in our approach to educating the whole person—for a just and humane world.”

 

Interested in getting involved with SU’s movement towards diversity? Natasha welcomes alums who are interested in speaking and working with her. You can contact her at nmartin@seattleu.edu.