Sister Kathleen Ross, PhD, president emerita of Heritage University in Toppenish, Washington, HNU Trustee, and this year’s Visiting SNJM Scholar, came to campus during the week of March 13. Sr. Kathleen led six inclusivity workshops on campus for the benefit of faculty and staff, and participated in a classroom discussion and other events.
This past fall, HNU conducted campus climate surveys for students and for faculty and staff. The University commissioned the surveys to gather information from the HNU community and to explore how it can continue to enhance its mission as a diverse and inclusive institution.
Sr. Kathleen reviewed the results of the student survey with faculty and staff during her inclusivity workshops. She selected a few salient statistics from the report and provided context for the attendees.
During the sessions, Sr. Kathleen asked all attendees to think about their own identities and to consider times when they might have felt stressed or anxious because of their identities. Participants were encouraged to engage in small-group discussions and share their thoughts.
In the latter part of the workshops, Sr. Kathleen spoke about techniques that faculty, staff, and others can use to make HNU more inclusive for students. She mentioned that many of the techniques she discussed have been put into practice at Heritage University, where the Institute for Student Identity and Success (which she founded) continues to develop and analyze other methods to improve the student experience. The Institute has produced 14 short videos, of three to four minutes in length, that share faculty inclusivity strategies (available at www.heritage.edu/institute). Sr. Kathleen has also written a book about these methods, Breakthrough Strategies: Classroom-Based Practices to Support New Majority College Students, which was published by Harvard Education Press in 2016.
In an interview near the end of her visit, Sr. Kathleen spoke about how enthusiastically the HNU faculty and staff participated in the inclusivity workshops. “Well, I was really pleased that the people who participated were really engaged and really shared from their experiences,” she said. “And this is a topic, diversity—and I like to talk about it as inclusivity and couch it as working on our inclusivity quotient, our IQ—when you’re working on that, the involvement of people and their ability to share from their experience is a vital part of that being successful.”
Sr. Kathleen spoke about how she has seen higher education institutions change their approach to diversity and inclusivity. “Well most colleges and universities nationally still have a majority of students—and I’m talking about four-year institutions—who come from Anglo, Caucasian, however you want to put it, middle-class backgrounds, and they’re not the first generation in their families to go to college,” she said. “The percentage of students who are coming from working-class and lower-income backgrounds who are not Anglo, and who are the first in their families to work toward a four-year degree or to earn one—that percentage is growing and it’s growing dramatically. So our [student] population is gradually shifting and it’s interesting that when it shifts like that, when that so-called minority group goes from 20% to 25%, it doesn’t really make that much difference. 25% to 30% it makes a little more difference, but when it gets up to 40%, 45%, 50%, 55%, suddenly people become much more aware of it and realize that there are some very important climate issues and skills that need to be fostered in order for that to work in a positive way.
“So as we already know, Holy Names University is on the forefront of being an institution that has a true high diversity index, meaning that there aren’t just people from one or two ethnic and socioeconomic groups, but from many,” Sr. Kathleen continued. “So there’s a mix of people. Students’ awareness of differences is really heightened. And that’s good as long as they get the support to see how to recognize and accept others’ differences, how to accept their own differences without putting themselves down.”