Western Washington University’s Social Justice and Equity Committee (SJEC) is committed to engaging faculty, staff, students and community members in the ongoing examination and reflection needed to create essential transformations in the academic policies, practices, and behaviors that result in inequity, exclusion, and social injustices at WWU. The SJEC is comprised of a main governance committee with 17 voting members, including two co-chairs, and three officer/stewards. Under the main committee are three interrelated and interdependent sub-committees—the Faculty Diversity and Social Justice Awards Committee, the Campus-Wide Dialogs Committee and the Faculty Learning Labs Committee.
The Faculty Diversity and Social Justice Awards Committee oversees and administers awards to faculty led project proposals that seek “to actively undertake the development of educational practices that support and enhance diversity and social justice in and beyond the classroom at WWU, or to engage in social justice projects that will result in the significant advancement of their professional development and field of research, scholarly or creative work”. Nineteen faculty projects have been funded over three years.
The Campus-Wide Dialogs Committee brings top-tier facilitation training for free to any faculty, staff, student or community participants who want to participate. Each year the committee hosts one to three facilitated open dialogs on a relevant current social justice topic, with a focus on developing facilitated, open and honest conversation on social justice issues across barriers within our communities. To date the CWD Committee has hosted six dialogs with over 525 participants and brought facilitation training to 75 facilitators—21 community members, 10 Whatcom Community College (WCC) faculty, 2 WCC staff, 17 WWU faculty, 15 WWU staff, and 10 WWU students. The committee itself has maintained a majority female and majority persons of color membership since inception. Self-governance policies ensure race and gender equity in the leadership of the committee. Additionally, the committee has maintained a majority representation of non-faculty community members in its membership ranks. This, in practice, exceeds the diversity aspirations of the university and provides a functional model for equity and inclusion. Almost three quarters of those responding to the HERI survey in 2017 feel underprepared to address social justice issues at Western. The work of the CWD is a scalable pilot with a proven track record to directly address that shortcoming.
The Faculty Learning Labs Committee hosts up to six learning labs each year, providing structured settings where awardees discuss their work, share knowledge, challenge each other and learn together. The labs serve two primary goals: one, to increase, strengthen and support cross-disciplinary communication, community and collaboration among faculty and staff who are doing the work, and two, to identify and address obstacles to the work itself and to the broader goals of structural transformation at Western Washington University.
The SJEC was funded by Western’s Office of the Provost and officially launched in the spring of 2015, when Dr. Trula Nicholas accepted the role of chair and sent out a call for participation to every faculty member at the university. The initial cohort of fifteen respondents met over the summer of 2015 to pilot the awards process and develop strategy for the SJEC’s future growth. Out of that, the Campus-Wide Dialogs and Faculty Learning Labs were created as key components to developing and supporting a community of social justice innovation at Western. Dr. Nicholas served as chair of the committee through AY 2017-2018 when she stepped down to focus on work within the sub-committees. Membership on the main committee over four years has included 21 different faculty, six staff members and seven students. Numerous faculty, staff and students have rotated through the subcommittees. The SJEC was originally housed under the Office of the Provost, then the Faculty Senate and now again under the Office of the Provost to accommodate its substantial programmatic components.
Relevance to Western’s Strategic Plan
The SJEC directly contributed to Western’s new strategic plan by writing objective 4.B: “Establish, fund and sustain practices of self-examination and continuous improvement to identify, understand, and remediate structural injustices and inequities at Western.”
All SJEC activities seek to advance Goals 3 and 4, with a specific focus on the following objectives:
Goal 3.B: Support student, staff, and faculty wellbeing, including physical health and wellness, mental health, and disability resources based on universal design.
Goal 3.D: Improve climate and working conditions for student employees, staff, and faculty at all locations.
Goal 4.A: Foster a positive and collaborative campus climate, including the physical environment, that welcomes and affirms the diversity of individuals, groups, cultures and ideas.
Goal 4.B. Establish, fund and sustain practices of self-examination and continuous improvement to identify, understand, and remediate structural injustices and inequities at Western.