As a liberal arts institution rooted in the democratic ideals of equal access and opportunity, Wheaton College strives to help everyone in our community thrive and share a real sense of belonging.
by Luis F. Paredes, Ph.D., Associate Vice President for Institutional Equity and Belonging
The Wheaton College community extends beyond a static definition of diversity and inclusion. Instead, our efforts provide urgent strategies to define and acknowledge our society’s changing demographics, cultural and political paradigms. It is also a community where faculty, students and staff engage in intercultural dialogue to understand cultural differences and human similarities. In turn, it creates a solid foundation for inclusivity and, in the process, achieves equity. We work cross-divisionally and collaboratively with all campus constituencies to enhance campus climate and campus members to implement data-informed programs and initiatives to help Wheaton College meet the goals focused on diversity, equity, and eliminating opportunity and completion gaps to further our mission of inclusive excellence.
As the Associate Vice President for Institutional Equity and Belonging, my leadership ethic is to build on and advance existing campus initiatives to facilitate opportunities for all, including the local community, to fulfill potential, build an even more integrated, supportive campus and create an entirely successful student experience. Addressing issues of identity gets to the core of many of our challenges. Identity includes and is not limited to political affiliation, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, socioeconomic status, ability, our spiritual and religious connection to our planetary existence and other species—including the awareness of the integral relationships of interdependence in search of balance and life on the planet, seeking connections and correlations. Knowing how these factors can impact different individuals’ lives and our collective experiences is essential.
While there are multiple perspectives about equity, belonging, and identity development, we provide pedagogical and theoretical frameworks at Wheaton College to expand social justice consciousness within us while acknowledging the external influences that construct and disrupt socio-cultural and political viewpoints. To this end, the Office of Institutional Equity and Belonging workshops and trainings are infused with theoretical frameworks with hands-on practice and institutional examples to increase the comfort of navigating a diverse student, staff and faculty population and empowering them, and ourselves, with an enhanced experience and ability to handle complex social and world problems. Moreover, given the broader context of our political climate; the rise of hate crimes; immigration and asylum policies, abuses of human rights and legal frameworks, and increasing fear and anxiety on the part of many in the U.S., my office’s work is always informed by an institutional strategic plan, a long-term approach, and implementation that meets the following objectives, which I consider essential to co-create inclusion:
- Move from fundamental self-awareness to critical consciousness, from practice skill and assessment to intervention and social action in addressing: DIFFERENCE, EQUITY, DIVERSITY and BELONGING.
- Understand and recognize our biases.
- Develop strategies for leading and illustrating inclusively excellent practices.
- Increase skill and ease with navigating conversations and conflicts around differences to help role model for students how to solve complex world problems.
- Harness the above to increase student, faculty, and staff retention and equip our students for career success, increasing their sensitivity and awareness of diverse lives while building respect and acceptance for multiple diversities of identity.
The Office of Institutional Equity and Belonging provides equity-minded approaches to ensure best practices are shared throughout the community. In addition, we implement data-informed programs and initiatives to improve the welcoming environment and climate to guarantee the success of our students from diverse backgrounds. The newly created division houses the following centers and initiatives:
- Early Arrival Programs
- Cultivating Leaders in Action
- Community Service
- LGBTQ+ Engagement
- 1st Generation & Low-Income Engagement
- Wheaton Food Pantry
- Interfaith Programs and Resources
- Meditation Room
- Education and Programming Committee
- DEAL Senate Committee
- Strategic Planning and Accountability Committee
Throughout our services and programs, we offer opportunities for professional growth, education to implement wise practice skills, assessment, interventions, and action planning to support the needs of all members of our community:
- We develop strategies for leading and implementing equity-minded practices to support student success.
- We work to increase diverse student, faculty, and staff recruitment and retention.
- We equip our community by increasing sensitivity and awareness of diverse lives while building respect and acceptance for multiple diversities of identity.
We firmly believe that solid relationships and networking support the success of our community. The key to practical efforts is aligning resources that support the College’s goals and priorities.