Thursday, July 7, 2011

GWU wants diversity...maybe it should begin with the alumni


It has taken me several weeks to be able to write about this experience. I was so angry, disappointed and hurt that I fumed every time I talked about it.

**for this post, diversity/minority = race, gender and sexual orientation**

The Short Version
During last month's George Washington Alumni Association (GWAA) Annual Meeting, we approved a slate of eleven men and two women to fill thirteen at-large positions on the association's board of directors AND were introduced to the four white men who will serve as elected officers for the 2011-2012 term.
This is progress! (and yes, I'm being sarcastic)

The Long Version
During the April GWAA board of director's meeting, we decided to amend the by-laws for the purpose of greater inclusion. Instead of being a school-based board, we wanted to be open for those who identify with affinity groups. There was discussion regarding the perceived power of the nominations committee as they alone would vet nomination forms and select the slate candidates, which we always approve. The board president said we could trust the committee to come up with a slate representative of the alumni body. Well, we now know how well the committee did...NOT!

The worst part, I knew this was going to happen. Two key factors made this situation unavoidable:
  1. The nominations committee was homogeneous. It's how we are wired, people gravitate to like people, which is why it's paramount to have diversity on the nominations committee. Translation: without diversity in the beginning, it is highly unlikely to end up with diversity.
  2. There was little or no outreach to the minority alumni groups. Sending one or two blast emails to the entire alumni body does not constitute outreach. Translation: you have not because you ask not.
During the annual meeting, I asked about the obvious disparity in the number of women on the slate, and the answers took me back to other less diverse times.

"we did the best we could with the applicants we received"
"it's an evolutionary process"
"it will take time" (this is my favorite...yes, more sarcasm)

Didn't suffragists hear these words at the beginning of the 20th century?
Didn't civil rights leaders hear these words in the 50's and 60's?

I say bullshit. If the board truly gave a damn about diversity, then the board would be diverse. The solution was simple -- don't fill all of the open at-large positions.
  • Nothing in the by-laws requires a minimum number of board members to function.
  • Nothing in the by-laws precludes the board from holding a special election.
  • Nothing in the by-laws is written in stone and can't easily be amended to suit the boards immediate needs at a given time.
And the best part of all is the timing (and the smack you in the face irony) of this catastrophe, a mere month before the June annual meeting, Dr. Terri Harris Reed, a Black woman, became GWU's first provost on diversity and inclusion. Can you believe it? (my final bit of sarcasm)

The GWAA has got to do better...period.

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I live in Washington, DC, one of the most beautiful places on earth. My personal mantra, "live your life, this isn't a dress rehearsal, you don't get very many do-overs, and guilt is a wasted emotion."

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