Fairfield University: Designing Diversity Initiatives

Fairfield University developed a strategic plan for diversity and mapped a path to a campus culture grounded in curiosity and mutual kindness across difference.

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01

Challenge

Beginning in 2013, Fairfield University’s Diversity Council developed a triennial assessment plan as a charge from its President to examine campus climate as it relates to diversity. The assessment plan included collecting demographic data, developing and administering a campus climate survey, and conducting focus groups targeting information revealed from the survey. As recruitment for the focus groups began in spring 2016, Fairfield University’s community was shaken by a highly publicized party that took place off campus. This incident brought to light existing tensions on campus, and served as an impetus adding energy to the work of the Diversity Council. The aftermath of the party raised awareness of the assessment project and the Fairfield community called for swift action to remedy the insensitivity demonstrated by the party.

Fairfield University’s Jesuit and Catholic identity is founded in cura personalis, the Ignatian philosophy of “care of the whole person” though dialogue, reflection, and diversity of thought and experience. The University, one of the country’s 28 Jesuit Catholic universities, is highly committed to service as well as learning, encouraging students to apply Jesuit philosophy to life beyond campus with intellectual rigor and self-awareness. Following the completion of the triennial assessment plan, and the 2016 incident, Fairfield administrators sought to develop a strategic plan for diversity, hoping to create a roadmap towards greater transparency and acceptance of difference. Challenging conversations were required to accomplish this goal involving synthesizing three years of data collection, and developing the tools and strategies needed to address future damaging incidents. Fairfield needed a partner to dive into the data, facilitate discussion, and provide the space to re-think communication and strategy of diversity initiatives in the community. Fairfield partnered with Continuum to gain the benefit of a fresh perspective and a neutral mediator for initial difficult discussions around race, class, gender, and academic and moral values.

02

Research & Insights

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Solution

Working with Fairfield’s Diversity Committee and senior leadership team, we mapped a path to a campus culture grounded in curiosity and mutual kindness across difference. Starting with Fairfield’s immediate needs, we focused on articulating a common code of respect and transparency, coupled with an aspirational and inspiring institutional point of view on diversity. We provided a framework for all community members to actively engage in the diversity vision at Fairfield.

We explored the many contexts in which students learn and form relationships, from the classroom to residence halls, recommending a holistic approach to inculcating Fairfield’s values and common code beginning with a student’s earliest experiences with the school. As the community internalizes and takes ownership of newly articulated values and expectations, older students will be ready to act as role models to their younger classmates. Ultimately Fairfield seeks to transform students from young learners to leaders and influencers whose actions are driven by self-reflection and empathy for others.

04

Results

While this project is still very much a work in process, Fairfield is optimistic about the possibilities of change. The community is willing to work to make the necessary cultural progress.

“I would love to effect institutional change here in a positive way,” says Sydney Johnson, Head Coach of Fairfield’s basketball team. “That’s kind of a bigger goal. A smaller goal would simply just [be]... for any one of my guys, or some of the students that I've befriended over the years that aren't on my team, to just be able to tell me and share and not have to carry it all the time, but share and get through it and then maybe move on."

We are also optimistic about this project. We’ve seen that Fairfield’s sense of partnership and collaboration extends beyond the campus—to include our own organization.

“After years of diversity work at Fairfield University, we engaged Continuum Innovation to collaboratively build a strategic plan to take our work to the next level,” says Christine Siegel, Fairfield’s Provost. “We were impressed by the ways in which Continuum heard our experiences and presented them back to us in ways which helped us gain a fresh perspective that will guide our diversity endeavors going forward."

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