Wheaton College: Our Journey toward Becoming an Anti-Racist Community

“We must work together to act on and do our best to eliminate the systemic biases and injustices that we know exist right here in our own community. This needs to be the year that Wheaton makes progress by leaps and bounds, not just incrementally, on creating an anti-racist campus.” – President Dennis M. Hanno, August 28, 2020

Diversity, Equity and Access Leadership (DEAL) was established in fall 2018. It is an umbrella initiative that fosters and coordinates leadership efforts across campus to ensure Wheaton consistently provides a diverse, inclusive, equitable and accessible learning community. Since the very beginning of our school’s history, Wheaton has strived to enact its commitment to social justice, examining the intersections of race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, and religion, class, and politics. Over the years, there have been multiple committees focused on examining the campus culture around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts: specifically since the late 1990s, the Multicultural Advisory Committee, President’s Action Council on Inclusive Excellence, Council on Inclusion and Diversity, and now DEAL.

The DEAL committee structure is rooted in cross-divisional membership from a wide variety of campus partners, including faculty, staff and students. This structure amplifies the importance of enacting DEI through the entire community, leaning into the shared belief that we all have a role to play and have something to contribute to this work. DEAL has four components: three co-chairs who meet together as a DEI leadership team and who report to the President’s Council. And the three corresponding committees, Education and Programming, Senate, and Strategic Planning and Accountability.

In the two years since DEAL was formed, we have been able to accomplish several important milestones, including a DEI mission and vision statement. Crafted in the spring of 2019, the statement is the direct outcome of student, staff, faculty, administration and alumni collaboration. It was unanimously approved by our Board of Trustees just this summer. This fall, after President Hanno’s call to action on working to become an anti-racist campus, DEAL developed a 10 Step Action Plan toward racial justice.

The plan represents ideas and goals put into actionable steps, inspired by the feedback we have collected and heard from community members. The campus climate survey from 2017, multiple listening sessions, feedback collected from teach-ins, and responses from students, faculty and staff who were asked the following prompt: what would a Rockstar Wheaton look like in terms of DEI? This has all played a part of moving our community from commitment to action and moving toward our continual goal of creating an anti-racist community.

At Wheaton, much of the work we value stems from collaborative leadership strategies. This is core to the values that laid the foundation to create DEAL in a way that reflects and respects collaborative community-based work. In our very structure, we enact shared responsibility for building an inclusive environment and a continuing commitment to examine the barriers that prevent us from fully living into the charge put forward by the leadership of the college.

The co-chairs of DEAL and our entire membership are thrilled to take on this work to help create a community where everyone feels that they belong at Wheaton—a community where race, ethnicity, religion, ability, sexual orientation, gender, nationality, and political affiliation does not separate or divide us. The goal is for all of our voices to be lifted up and not only recognized and respected but celebrated.

Raquel Ramos, Shaya Gregory Poku, and Stephanie Burlington Daniels