Last summer, in a message to the Butler community commemorating Juneteenth, Butler President James Danko called upon the University community to take action in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at Butler across four key areas: education, organization, behavior, and procedure. Harkening back to Butler’s founding in 1855 by abolitionist attorney Ovid Butler, Danko made a particular point to remind the University community of its founding values.
“Our renewed commitment to our founder’s mission has taken on an even greater sense of urgency this year to ensure all students, faculty, and staff are welcome, respected, and flourishing,” Danko says. “Butler University has a moral and historic imperative to be a leader in addressing issues of racism and social injustice in higher education.”
University leadership recognized that expanding organizational capacity would be required in order to maintain focus on DEI. Thus, DEI has been highlighted as one of the University’s seven strategic priorities for Butler Beyond, with the goal of creating an intentionally diverse, equitable, and inclusive learning and working environment. The University’s DEI efforts will be led by Provost Kathryn Morris, Vice President for Student Affairs Frank E. Ross III, and a new yet-to-be-named Vice President for Human Resources who will also sit on the University Cabinet.
A number of important initiatives are already up and running since President Danko’s Juneteenth call to action, and others are in the works. Here are a few of the ways Butler’s strategic focus on DEI is taking shape.
Social Justice and Diversity
In August 2020, a Social Justice and Diversity (SJD) requirement went into effect as a new addition to the Core Curriculum. Students must take one course in any part of the University that exposes them to critical scholarship on the root causes of marginalization and inequity and how to counter it.
The Department of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
The Department of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion was created in 2019 within the Division of Student Affairs, led by Executive Director Gina Forrest. The department is housed within the Efroymson Diversity Center, which was renovated last year and remains central to the University’s student-focused DEI efforts on campus. The Efroymson Diversity Center is currently working to fill two vacant positions, which will expand its capacity to offer programming and support for students. The International Club is now housed within the space, along with six other student organizations. This year, all incoming students were enrolled in Foundations of DEI, a series of trainings on topics such as Bias and Perception and Inclusive Language.
“I would love to see every student visit the Efroymson Diversity Center at least once during their academic career,” Forrest says. “We are here for everyone. My hope is that every student will feel heard, respected, and that they genuinely belong at Butler, while being open to learning about others.”
Hub for Black Affairs and Community Engagement
In October, the University announced its plans to launch a Hub for Black Affairs and Community Engagement in partnership with Professor of Political Science Terri Jett as Faculty Director.
The Hub will serve as an institutional command center to address systemic racism and Black oppression. As Faculty Director, Jett will be focusing on the lives and experiences of the Black community at Butler and creating opportunities for engagement with the greater Black Indianapolis community. She will also serve as Senior Advisor to the President in this capacity. The Hub will advance a number of initiatives reaching across all aspects of University life, including establishing Black faculty and staff affinity groups, supporting Black students, and inviting Black intellectuals to be in-residence to conduct workshops, trainings, and seminars for Black students and others to learn from and interact with these important role models. The Hub will also include an Advisory Group that will help determine the priorities of the Hub and be responsive to the administration in efforts to address the experiences of Black students, faculty, and staff at Butler.
“The Hub is anchored in the abolitionist roots of Butler University and will elevate and center the disparate Black intellectual voice and experience that has often been marginalized and yet is critical for the institution to be at the forefront of our heightened awareness and shifting responsibilities, considering what we are experiencing and witnessing,” Jett says.
The Old National Bank Center for Business Excellence
The Old National Bank Center for Business Excellence at Butler University (ONB Center) was established in 2017 through a $5 million gift from Old National Bank to connect privately held companies with the resources and support they need to succeed.
In August, the ONB Center announced an initiative aimed at strengthening and supporting businesses owned by underrepresented groups throughout Indiana. The initiative was inspired in part by a conversation between Butler student intern Victor Aguilar and ONB Center Director Mark McFatridge. The overriding goal of the initiative is to play a role in reducing the wealth gap of underrepresented groups.