Office of Equity and Inclusion to be dispersed; services and positions will be shifted to other campus offices

Written By Amanda Andrews, Editor-in-Chief

The Student Government Association (SGA) announced at its legislative body meeting on Monday, March 7, that President Don Green is planning on dissolving the Office of Equity and Inclusion (OEI). However, President Don Green’s administration is saying that changes to OEI are happening at the office’s request, not the president’s.

In an interview with The Globe, SGA President Dennis McDermott said that SGA’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Chair Eli Bagaporo notified the Executive Cabinet on Friday, Feb. 25 that the office would be “disbanded” before the start of the Fall 2022 semester.

“I’m going to do everything in my power in my last semester here as president to make sure this doesn’t happen,” McDermott said. “And we accomplished some big things last year, and I can’t make any promises, but if I have any say in it, it’s going to stay exactly how it is.”

The mission statement of the Office of Equity and Inclusion currently is to “wholeheartedly foster institutional equity, diversity, and inclusion by raising awareness and implementing strategies and tools to shift mindsets and align all members of the campus community with creating a culture of appreciation, acceptance, and inclusion for all individuals at every level of the institution,” according to its PointSync page.

McDermott and SGA’s Executive Cabinet said the office was being altered from a directive from President Don Green, but Managing Director of University Marketing and Public Relations Lou Corsaro said that this was not the case and that the disbandment of OEI as a single entity was requested by the office’s employees themselves.

“The Office of Equity and Inclusion initiated talks with President Green about some changes that would help the office operate more efficiently,” Corsaro said. “Those talks have been ongoing and presentations have been made on it to members of the campus community.”

“This isn’t Don making a decision unilaterally,” Corsaro added.

OEI was established slightly before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, according to Corsaro, although the office was not extremely visible to students until this academic year. The current responsibilities of OEI fall into three main categories: learning accommodations for students, compliance — including the process and enforcement of Title IX investigations — and diversity, equity and inclusion training as well as events, ranging from discussions to multicultural fairs. The primary catalyst for the office’s request, Corsaro said, has been an exponentially greater demand for student accommodation services within the last two years.

“There has been a quadrupling in accommodations requests during the pandemic, which has strained OEI’s resources. Under the plan being discussed, this area would move under the Center for Student Success,” Corsaro said.

This comes as Provost Dr. Michael Soto announced at the faculty meeting on Monday, March 7 that Molly McClelland, currently the Director of Student Success, would be occupying a new and more expanded position that would include overseeing accommodation services.

As for Title IX and other similar compliance roles, Corsaro said that “with a national search underway for a General Counsel, the compliance area has requested that it be housed under that position, which is a more natural fit.”

The staff that handles diversity, equity and inclusion training will be moving to the Center for Inclusive Excellence, including the Assistant Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Training Michael Thornhill, according to Corsaro.

“None of the work OEI does is being eliminated; rather, the various components of the office would shift to other areas of the University where they will find more support and be able to focus more directly on their missions,” Corsaro said. “Final plans are still being developed and University leadership continues to meet with various groups for input.”

One of those groups is SGA, and McDermott mentioned that he will be meeting with administrative officials on Friday. However, he said that the reasoning behind the decision had not been made clear to either the student government’s legislative body or the executive cabinet.

“All I can say is the executive cabinet of the student government is vehemently opposed to any measure reducing the influence or size of the OEI Office,” McDermott said.

This is not the only significant change within this semester that has been announced for OEI. On January 24, President Don Green wrote in a university-wide email that the Office of Equity and Inclusion was undergoing reorganization. From that point forward, he said, the Office of Equity and Inclusion would be reporting directly to the President’s Office. Corsaro noted on Tuesday, March 8 that this was a temporary measure that would be in effect until the official sectioning off of OEI services.

McDermott said they and their executive cabinet believe having the current resources of OEI located in one office has been part of a movement to “working toward a better, more equitable university” and that it would be harmful to students to disband it.

“I think you could ask any number of my student government what it means to them to have an office at our university, specifically dedicated to the issues of which it is titled for — equity and inclusion — is just a sign of a progressive institution that people want to go to,” McDermott said. “And people feel proud to be part of an institution that cares that much to dedicate their entire group of people towards solving issues regarding that.”

The OEI could not be immediately reached for comment.

This is a breaking news story written and developed on Tuesday, March 8. We will have updates in upcoming issues.