Building a Community of Equity

A new cultural competency professional development program is unveiled for WSU Vancouver.

Every day the news brings some jarring reminder of how far our society has to go to achieve any semblance of equality, fairness and respect for all people. Consider a few headlines that appeared in early summer:

“White woman calls cops on black family who barbecued in Oakland Park's barbecue area”
“Scarlett Johansson steps down from trans role, admits she was 'insensitive’”
“Harvard rated Asian American applicants lower on personality traits, suit says”
“The Quiet Death of Racial Progress”

Clearly, there is no time to lose, and WSU Vancouver is taking action to boost the cultural competency of its faculty, staff and administrators, and thereby strengthen the campus’s commitment to equity. The effort is a 12-hour cultural competency professional development program titled Building a Community of Equity.

It began in April 2017, when faculty, staff and administrators participated in a pilot cultural competency workshop. Following this workshop, WSU Vancouver’s new campus director of equity and diversity, Obie Ford III, invited a committee to join him in a one-year quest to develop a robust cultural competency program rooted in equity for the campus.

Among the topics of discussion:

  • How do we create space that encourages people to speak up, that empowers targeted individuals and emboldens those who are advantaged to become part of this work as an advocate and accomplice?
  • What is WSU Vancouver’s responsibility in creating equity in pedagogy, policy, procedure and practice?
  • How do we dismantle systemic barriers and transform our community so that members, including under- represented and underserved communities, feel a deep sense of welcome, belonging and value not in spite of, but because of their multiple identities and lived experiences?
  • How do we centralize an equity lens, encourage equity- mindedness and institutionalize equity throughout the campus?

After drafting and while piloting a program, the committee sought feedback from WSU faculty, staff and administrators, then developed the final Building a Community of Equity program, known as BaCE. It was formally adopted by the Chancellor’s Cabinet in June 2018 and will debut this fall.

Unlike corporations such as Starbucks, which set mandatory half-day workshops for its staff in an attempt to combat racism, WSU Vancouver’s effort is long term and builds momentum, giving participants time to learn, reflect and then practice what they have learned. The 12-hour professional development program is spread over a series of workshop options, which may be taken at various points throughout the year.

For example, there will be workshops this fall on Equity-Mindedness, Search Committee Training and Universal Design, to name a few. Before taking any of the workshops, participants will complete the Intercultural Development Inventory, a pre-assessment that provides in-depth insights on how individuals and groups make sense of and respond to cultural differences. Participants will also complete the IDI as a post-assessment.

The professional development does not end there either. “Participants will have opportunities for continued action-building through informal gatherings, equity lunch forums and collaborations with external partners and internal stakeholders, including the Diversity Council and Collaborative for Social and Environmental Justice,” Ford said.

Toward a More Just Society

BaCE facilitates WSU Vancouver's Strategic Plan, Goal 4: to promote an ethical and just society through an intentional commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion. More specifically, BaCE directly meets the institutional strategy to “create a cultural competency committee to ensure quality and effectiveness of mandatory cultural competency training held on campus.”

The program will help WSU Vancouver close the opportunity gap and ensure equitable outcomes for all student populations, including underrepresented and underserved communities.

In addition, the program will help WSU Vancouver close the opportunity gap and ensure equitable outcomes for all student populations, including underrepresented and underserved communities; build and maintain a safe, welcoming and hospitable environment for all students and employees in an effort to proactively improve campus climate; and infuse equity throughout the fabric of the campus structure to increase capacity to work toward equity in all aspects of campus endeavors.

BaCE has five essential outcomes:

  1. To provide participants a theoretical framework for understanding equity and diversity.
  2. To promote self-awareness and encourage participants to communicate across differences more effectively.
  3. To challenge participants to critically examine policies related to equity and diversity.
  4. To assist participants in skill-building to recognize systemic barriers and institutionalize more equitable practices in procedure, policy and pedagogy.
  5. To empower participants to take action to create a more equitable and hospitable campus community.

“We are in this work together, and as the inaugural campus director of equity and diversity, I am excited to lead the construction and realization of an equity infrastructure for our campus,” Ford said. “BaCE represents a critical piece of this infrastructure as it equips our community with resources and tools to disrupt and dismantle systemic barriers. In turn, this facilitates the ways in which we show up to serve, love, inspire, create and elevate our community. We are stronger doing this work together. BaCE is brave, transformative work that will have a proactive and profound effect on our campus community of faculty, staff and, most importantly, students.”

WSU Vancouver is among a select number of universities to proactively create a cultural competency program for all faculty, staff and administrators alike, and one of a few to use a valid, theory-based assessment instrument, the IDI, along with additional assessment tools.

You can learn more about BaCE at or contact Ford at ■