Dr. Rayshawn Eastman is the Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer and Title IX Coordinator at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Mount, as it’s called locally, serves about 2000 students each with a faculty, staff, and adjunct population of about 400 employees.
In this episode, Dr. Eastman shares how the university’s approach to D&I relies on design thinking and community engagement.
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“Inclusion by Design” Full Episode
Full Episode Transcript
Welcome to including you. My guest today is Dr. Rayshaun Eastman. Dr. Eastman is a chief diversity and inclusion officer and title IX coordinator at Mount St. Joseph university in Cincinnati, Ohio.[00:01:00] The Mount as it’s called locally serves about 2000 students each year where the faculty, staff, and adjunct population of about 400 employees, Dr. Eastman, welcome to the. Thank you so much. It’s an honor to be here.
I’m so glad to talk to you because I think, college campuses are the first time that a lot of people are away from home and a lot of, for a lot of young people, it’s the first time they really see a world outside of their hometown or outside of a community that they grew up in.
And so this is really a first step for a lot of people into other people’s worldviews, other people’s way of living and other people’s perspectives and attitudes.
Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. You’re exactly right. And oftentimes it’s the first time that folks have to share space with other people and oftentimes those residence hall rooms are often Cluttered and not with cluttered with stuff, but clutter with [00:02:00] people.
And so it’s really important for universities in particularly at Mount St. Joseph, that we’re helping prepare students to engage with people that are different from them. And learn in learning from people that are different. And that has to be done in very intentional ways because at the end of the day, as much as we don’t like to think about this, but we preparing our students for a workforce that is ever-changing and diverse.
And I argue that their time on at college and or on campus is where they can develop those skills. To work with people that, that are different and develop a appreciation for what people have to bring to the table, no matter what their identities or backgrounds are.
Yeah. If I’m understanding your role correctly, you’re not just focused on your student population, but on your employee population as well. Can you talk a little bit about why that’s so important at the Mount?
Absolutely. And my job kind[00:03:00] of range the gamut of just touching every aspect of the institution. But our workforce is something that is vitally important, especially as we know that traditional students, that 18 to 22, that generation Z is one of the most diverse cohorts of people in the country. How do we develop a workforce that students are seeing their identities in their professors and the support staff that works on campus and the administration, and how are we training the folks that are a part of our workforce to engage with a diverse student body and to engage with their peers, their other co-workers on campus and in ways.
Cultivate that sense of belonging and connectedness. That’s so vitally important for both students and the folks in the workforce. As we see what’s happening right now and in our country with the great resignation is that[00:04:00] folks are leaving jobs because there are options out there. And if we’re not cultivating the sense of belonging and connectedness and people see themselves in the organization, they’re not going to stay.
And I believe that diversity equity and inclusion is center point in creating that space where folks feel like they belong. And they’re included.
Now you touched on a couple of things that I think are super important for all employers to hear. And that is number one, gen Z. Is remarkably diverse, their attitudes and their expectations around diversity are very different.
But to your really on the, the tip of this as these young people are leaving home and preparing for the workforce. So you’re really the first wave or seeing the first wave of these changes a little bit ahead of employers. And as I think about that, I think, employers probably have a lot to learn from universities about how they’re[00:05:00] handling some of these issues.
Absolutely. Absolutely. Especially when you think about the we the US census, and we know that there’s all types of problems that happen with US census is that people that are underrepresented are often under-reported. But from the data that we do know is that between 2010 and 2020, there was a 276% increase and people that are two or more racist.
So what that’s telling us is that the demographics are shifting and shifting dramatically and it’s happening fast. So for us it’s how do we create an environment on campus where students feel like they see themselves across campus, but are engaging with each other and learning how to do things like have civil discourse and conversation because that’s what’s going to prepare them for the workforce.
How do I. I may see an issue as X,[00:06:00] you may see issue as Y, what, how do we have a conversation in a way where I respect your opinion? You respect my opinion. We may not ever agree, but you have a right to European. And I have a right to mind. That’s the beauty of a college education because in the classroom spaces, in the co-curricular spaces, we’re encouraging students to engage in dialogue with each other across differences, which is going to make them better employees.
Because they can see other people’s perspectives and point of views. And that’s, what’s going to allow for the solutions to complex problems that they would encounter during their time. In the workforce is the ability to say, I’m going to take a little bit of what you think a little bit of what I think I’m going to put that together and we’re going to solve issues.
That’s the whole idea of the college education and that along with like critical thinking, right, and learning to respect people and learn how to synthesize information. But if you can all do that[00:07:00] from an equity mindedness space it changes the way that you do your work and you engage with your working.
And I wholeheartedly believe that starts in college. And what better way for it to start with folks that have now have access to education that is expanded and that access being open to diverse populations. So for us, how that shifted our work is. One, not only are we trying to cultivate that sense of belonging and connectedness, but two, how do we leverage the population of students that we have to create that space of engagement and dialogue with each other so that students are prepared when they do make that leap to the workforce.
That’s fantastic. And as an interviewer, I have to say thank you because you just asked the question that I’m going to ask you to now answer, how do you do that? What are you doing that’s successful on your campus that you feel like other people can learn from that other companies can learn from? Other universities can[00:08:00] adopt to help have some of these outcomes that you’re seeking to have.
Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I think the first thing is to development of a strategic plan around DEI and it could be a standalone plan or it could be a part of the university’s larger strategic plan. If it’s a standalone plan, make sure that it aligns and connects to the larger strategic plan for the university.
And what that’s, what that strategic plan is going to do for you is that it’s going to one, create a mechanism for accountability. So once you say we’re going to do X, like right now you’re held accountable to that for the public. And for the university community, but it also gives some, a strategic role map for where you want to go around DEI.
And the last thing it allows for some measurements of success, some assessment to take place. And that is going to be critically important, especially for dollar[00:09:00] allocations like her. And that’s really important because. As we all know, budgets are often tight in higher education, but if you’re able to articulate the results of the work in a DEI space, as it connects to the strategic direction of the university and articulate both quantity, quantitatively and qualitatively, what you’ve done that gives you some father, if you will, to make the case for continuous support of DEI efforts. So that’s one of the things that we did first was developed where we were going to go and with our inclusive by design strategic action plan, however, culture eats strategy for lunch and breakfast and dinner and a few snacks in between. So if you don’t have the proper culture in place in your organization, you can have the best strategy out there, but if your culture doesn’t match, then you won’t be successful. So one of the things that that we have done is [00:10:00] went through this process of operationalizing DEI into the institutional culture at the Mount and some of, so I’m trying to remember the theorist name. I’m sorry. It eludes me, but what the theorist talks about is how you institutionalize to change culture.
It’s first you you’re developing awareness around the change that you want to make and that’s called mobilization, and we’re focusing on the structural level and introducing the concepts that we and practices of how we want to change in the culture that we want into the organization.
So some of that is just done through research not research. I’m sorry. Research is important workshops like you’re building that awareness to get DEI front of mind for folks. So workshops, trainings, those things. So people are starting to have that conversation around DEI[00:11:00] and then you’re moving into the space of institutionalization and in that space, it’s about building procedures and behaviors and practices like, so one of the things that we’ve done at this institutional institutionalization level was we created a policy where there’s a DEI advocate on all of our searches. So now we’re looking at the behaviors and the way that we operate and function.
As an institution. And then that leads to that last stage, which is that institutionalization, that operational institutionalization. And that’s where it DEI becomes ingrained into the values and norms of our organization. So then when we think about new initiatives that are coming, our current practice that we’re doing, we’re approaching it from an equity minded space.
So what we’re doing in that space, Is looking at all of our policies on our campus and[00:12:00] doing an equity review of our policies to ensure that there are equitable, right? And there’s a difference between equality and equitable. We’re talking about, we’re talking, not about making sure that things are equal, but things are equitable for folks.
And that folks are able to engage with our university freely and have the same opportunity, no matter what their identities are. And the last piece, sorry for this long answer. The last piece is what I like to call logistical mechanisms. So strategy does not work without the culture and addressing the culture, but it does not work without the logistical mechanisms.
So resources, so financial resources, human resources, space, resources. So that has to be built out in the organization. So the strategies can be executed or the tactics within your strategy. So that’s the three-prong approach that we’ve taken at Mount St. Joseph,[00:13:00] which has moved the needle dramatically in the two years that I’ve been in.
That’s fantastic. Now, what kinds of results are you seeing after two years of doing this work? Because I think results are they’re important. It’s one thing to have activities and be going through the motions and doing the work. But it’s something else entirely the, see what changes as a result of that.
Absolutely. And I’ll give you an example of that. So one of our goals in our inclusive by design strategic action plan is to increase our student enrollment. To match the regions, demographics and the same thing. And for our workforce also, we just have not, we’re still working intensively on the workforce space, but I’ll talk about the student space because we’ve had some tremendous success in that area.
And in fact, we’ve seen a 12%. Increase in diverse students for the fall 2020 class from the preview at the fall 21 class.[00:14:00] So a part of what that’s doing. So thinking about it from the strategy standpoint, we said, Hey, as a strategy we want to increase, our goal is to increase to the region. Demographics.
And then we’ve created some key performance indicators around that. So from the logistical mechanism piece was okay, how are we going to do this? And some people may say, tactics are, those six are part of that is. Hiring a diversity recruiter for a missions, right? Intentional pathways from historical black colleges and universities to our graduate programs at Mount St. Joseph so those are the mechanisms that we’re putting in place to ensure that happens. And then from a cultural standpoint has been okay, how do we now change the way that we engage? With the community to give them access and exposure to Mount St. Joseph. And that is a behavior thing,[00:15:00] right? So it’s like today I was in a meeting about Cincinnati public schools is a large minority serving school district. In Cincinnati. We were talking about hosting their high suit for Riverview high school, their high school games. Mount St. Joseph is providing access to Mount St. Joseph’s to populations that may not have ever had access before, but that is such a cultural thing.
So now, so they’re with, so not, it’s not just about getting them here. What’s their experience. Now when they step on campus and they engage with our university. And how do we shift the culture? So now that’s a positive experience versus a negative experience, right? So we’re taking the strategy, we’re addressing the culture and we’re putting in place the mechanisms for success to reach that goal that we’ve put in place, which is to get to region demographics.And we are pretty close. We’re probably in, in most racial[00:16:00] categories, we are probably within. Percentage point or two away. And, but a part of that was the 12% increase in racial minorities for this last cohort of students.
This has been incredible. And as you were talking, I understood why you call your strategic roadmap inclusion by design, because you’re actually taking a design thinking approach to how you’re engaging.
Not just your current students and faculty, but the community at large, and you’ve really mapped this out from. If you’ll forgive the term, a customer experience perspective from beginning to end, right?
Absolutely. Absolutely. And in higher ed, we get a little, it feels a little icky when we say customer experience, but the reality is that our students are our customers, because if we don’t have students, none of us have jobs. So we have to have an experience. For our students to engage with the institution in a[00:17:00] way that, that makes them want to engage and in the marketplace of higher education is just shrinking. So it’s all about that experience. And a part of that experience is how the students feel when they step on campus, how we make them feel, what faculty and staff say and do what that classroom experiences is like. Do, are we engaging in cultural responsive pedagogy or which simply means the way that we teach, do students see themselves in the curriculum and having that conversation and working with faculty in a way to create that experience for students?
Oh, if I’m a nursing student and we’re talking about skin diseases how does this show up on students with people with darker skin versus lighter skin? And if you have that conversation in that way, not only does it make that student a better nurse, but it also helps students feel like, oh, like we talked about me in this classroom[00:18:00] experience. So a part of that is how we work with faculty to teach in that particular manner. Which leads to that customer experience, if you will. Yeah.
And I know customer experiences or the word customer is an achy term. And so forgive me for that, but I have a business background, so that’s where I’m coming from.
So let’s talk, let’s shift a little bit, because you said, you really do have to engage your faculty. In order to make this experience good for your students. What kinds of things are you doing to engage your faculty in this work that you feel like is meaningful and is moving the needle on your campus?
Absolutely. I’ll speak about two things particular, and I think that this goes to the culture. Piece of it all. As one we host about every three weeks of workshops for faculty, where we talk about different DEI topics from communicating across generation gaps to to LGBTQIA issues, to the[00:19:00] experience of our minority students on campus. So it just ranges, the gamut of the conversations that we have, and we have. A lot of attendance to those in those particular workshops. We’re actually leading a group of leaders on campus, through our discussion for this text called becoming a student ready institution and engaging.
Faculty in the space where faculty operate and that’s the intellectual space. So we can theorize about it a little bit and then think about how then we put that into practice. That’s where faculty operate. But the whole concept of this text is that often times historic our, historically I should say that universities have said, are our students ready to come to college?
This tech sale, let’s shift that paradigm and say, are we ready to receive our students, particularly as demographics are changing, right? The access to education has[00:20:00] shifted and quite the reality is that less than 50% of people that go to college finish college, and that’s just the reality. So obviously there’s something wrong with the model and taking all of that into consideration.
It’s changing and shifting the way that we think about the engagement with students. And that’s the whole premise of the text. So this summer, for instance, we’re reading that that’s that culture shift that’s important for our school of health sciences. We’ve developed a DEI committee. Where that committee of faculty are engaging with DEI topics within the school and looking to address any concerns that may present themselves, how to be intentional about the recruitment of diverse students and how to be intentional about the pedagogy and the curriculum and all of those spaces.
So those are just some examples of what we’ve been doing from the culture standpoint with our faculty, because once. Just that.[00:21:00] I think the numbers and all of the other stuff will absolutely follow.
Definitely. So with all of this that you’ve done, and I know you had a long-term strategic roadmap, what are you planning to do next?
Absolutely. That is a great question. Being, working at a college, it’s all about continuing the education process like and how to cultivate a space where we can continue to educate the community. Something that’s not on the strategic road map, but I’m working in partnership with our Dean of the school of education.
Dr. Laura Sailor is we’re creating a certificate program for DEI, so to, to train future leaders on the DEI space and especially as DEI is becoming front of mind for folks across industries, like where are the places where folks are getting the training and the skillset development so that they can learn how to develop[00:22:00] strategy and in that strategy, how to influence culture, how to build out mechanisms for success.
So we’re actually going through that process of exploring that a certificate program. And of course, anytime you build a program, Accreditation con processes and those things but the whole, what the really hope is that we’re entering into a space as a university where we’re educating folks to do this critical work in society.
And that aligns with who we are as an institution. I don’t know if folks know this, but the Mount was founded as an all women’s college in the night in 1920. So during the women’s suffrage, and the very empathy of who we are is about social justice, right? And as I say, educating folks that are on the margins and teaching people how to engage in care and have that epic ethic of care for folks.
Oh, that are on the margins as our founders is the sisters of charity. Talk about care to[00:23:00] risk a dairy response. And I think that totally aligns in the DEI space because oftentimes folks that are on the margins need folks to care, to risk a dare response, to ensure that their voices are heard and listened to in society.
I love that quote care to risk a daring response. Dr. Eastman, thank you so much for your time today. Thank you for sharing with us. All of the amazing things that you’re doing on campus, not just for your students, but for your faculty and to prepare the workforce of the future. I greatly appreciate you.
Yeah, absolutely. And if folks ever want to reach out, can I give my email address? It is Eastmanr17@gmail.com. So please fill it or feel free to reach out if you have any questions or are just want to talk through some BI strategy. That’s what I do in my sleep. That’s wonderful. Thank you so much.[00:24:00] [00:25:00]