The Grand Rapids Community College Board of Trustees had a closed session followed by a work session on Jan. 24 to discuss Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) as well as other campus related topics.
The meeting began with a closed session to discuss negotiations of a collective bargaining agreement. Following the closed session, the work session began which is open to the public.
The board started off the meeting with a video on the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ODEI). The board members were asked to think about four thought stimulators including understanding of DEI, what they were impressed with, what causes them pause, and what they wonder about the program.
The video was meant to start a discussion about the importance of DEI and the impact it’s initiatives have at GRCC.
The board then went over all of their answers and led a discussion of the importance of having a safe space to discuss these topics, and how to have meaningful conversations with people you might not agree with.
Following that discussion, they had a conversation with a variety of different opinions regarding the ODEI.
“My concern, if not fear, is that because of all the initiatives and because of, particularly listening to the lecture series, is that we are inditing ourselves that we are not equitable, we are not diverse, and we are not inclusive,” said GRCC Board Treasurer Sheryl Siegel.
“…This is a great institution,” she continued. “And our vision statement which says, ‘we inspire students to meet economic, social, and environmental challenges to become active participants in shaping the future,’ and yet I think we give a dual message… We are the most caring faculty against any other higher-ed institution. On the other hand, I think we are giving the impression that minority students can’t do because of racist obstacles, so perhaps I am merely confused about what the primary message we ought to be giving to students.”
Following her statement, other board members chimed in with different perspectives.
“My initial thought is that more than one thing can be true at the same time,” said Trustee Daniel Williams. “GRCC can be and is a terrific institution, doing terrific things and supporting people, supporting young folks, supporting workforce development, supporting faculty, and engaging in important discussions in the community, so that’s (one) thing. And there’s larger social conversations that have always happened and need to happen, but have been happening more in the forefront as opposed to the background lately, and that are addressing larger, systemic structural discussions that as an important institution in a community all affect how everybody engages in our community.”
Siegel followed after Williams’ comment stating that she is concerned about DEI overshadowing academic excellence.
GRCC President Bill Pink responded to Siegel, saying,“I think with what you hear from our (ODEI), it gives every person on campus the opportunity to listen in on those things and not necessarily be indicted upon it, but if I can gain something from… and learn something from it, I get that, but it’s not that it’s inditing the campus that you are in a bad place, it is saying how do we continue as an institution to sharpen ourselves.”
The conversation continued with Pink discussing how barriers affect GRCC, stating that sometimes the board and faculty aren’t aware of all the constantly changing barriers that GRCC students face and it’s through the speakers of the Diversity Lecture Series and students’ opinion that they can learn and take on the barriers.
Near the end of the discussion, Trustee Brandy Lovelady Mitchell suggested a conversation with the ODEI and Dr. Sheila Jones, Dean of Instructional Support, to talk about cultural competence in the context of GRCC to the board as well as people of the community to get a better understanding of the topics discussed.
The next topic was the Board Officer Conversation where Chairperson David Koetje suggested that the board continue with its current officer appointments through the end of the year and revisit the appointments at the end of the year.
It was also announced that Trustee Kathleen Bruinsma was appointed to the The Association of Community College Trustees (AACT) Governance and Bylaw committee. The committee is “responsible to review resolutions related to the governance of the Association, amendments to the Bylaws, and the Board Policies.”
Pink closed the meeting with important events coming up for the campus including the grand opening of the West Michigan Construction Institute (WMCI), the legislative luncheon, and reviewing potential properties for the Public Safety Training Center.
The next Board of Trustees meeting is scheduled for Feb. 21. For more information on the GRCC’s Board of Trustees, visit here.