The Washington State University Board of Regents addressed diversity and equity during a meeting on its Vancouver campus Thursday afternoon.

In a Strategic and Operational Excellence Committee meeting Thursday, WSU Vancouver Associate Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Obie Ford III delivered a presentation on the impact of equity at the university.

The presentation was a preliminary report from the university’s Task Force on Equity in Policy and Practice, a group WSU President Kirk Schulz established over a year ago. Several members of the task force were in attendance.

WSU Vancouver Chancellor Mel Netzhammer said a series of equity-oriented questions will be used to help guide the drafting of new university policies as well as the revision of existing policy.

One assessment question asks, “What are the potential impacts of this policy, practice or decision on those who’ve experienced systemic racism and institutional discrimination?”

Netzhammer said the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery spurred conversations among university leaders.

“We agreed it was important to condemn systemic racism in our communities,” Netzhammer said. “But we also needed to address systemic racism within higher education and specifically at Washington State University.”

Netzhammer said this eventually led to a series of discussions in summer 2020 about applying an equity lens to university policies. The task force began by looking at policies they thought were most in need of revision.

“The testing admissions requirement was one of the policies we looked at,” Netzhammer said. “We also looked at hiring policies and as we started having those conversations, we began to realize there were a lot of policies in need of revision with an equity frame behind them.”

Previously, the university didn’t have a process for looking at policies in an equitable way. He said the work to reexamine existing policies will be ongoing for years, and is beyond the scope of any one group.

They plan to use what’s called an equity impact assessment tool to substantially revise policy.

“This is an ongoing process that will continue through the beginning of January as our work begins to wind down,” Netzhammer said. “We have shared it with various campus groups to get buy-in and to get feedback.”

Ford said he likes to think of the tool as an opportunity to establish a common language on campus and embed equity in everything WSU does.

“It’s important to say this process is not punitive,” Ford said. “As a tool, we’re often placing equity and diversity on a deficit.”

Ford said he hopes examining policy through an equity lens will make conversations around systemic racism institutionally focused.

The process is intended to minimize adverse impacts, according to Ford. He said WSU needs to move beyond the buzzwords and ingrain accountability into its work for equity, diversity and inclusion.

“These are things that speak to policy, but also speak to our everyday decisions and the opportunities for us to interrupt our implicit biases, unconscious biases and to engage in equity beyond the performative but in really meaningful and authentic ways,” Ford said.

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