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Equity Matters

Welcome to Equity Matters, a conversation about diversity, equity, and inclusion at Oakland University. Our inaugural podcast episode features OU’s Provost, Dr. Britt Rios-Ellis, and OU’s Chief Diversity Officer, Glenn McIntosh, who is also Senior Vice President of Student Affairs. Their conversation delves into the importance and success of Oakland’s DEI initiatives and the challenges of equity in higher education.


>> Welcome to Equity Matters, a conversation about diversity, equity and inclusion at Oakland University. Our first episode features Provost Britt Rios Ellis and Oakland's Chief Diversity Officer Glenn McIntosh, who is also Senior vice president of Student Affairs. Their conversation delves into the importance and success of Oakland DEI initiatives and the challenges of equity in higher education.

>> Hi, great to be with you here today. I'm Britt Rios Ellis, I'm the executive vice president for academic affairs and provost here at Oakland University and I am so excited to have my first guest here, Glenn McIntosh, Mr. OU, Mr. USA. I'm learning so much about you absolutely incredible lifespan and commitment to OU.

>> Honored to be here.

Great to have you. Can you tell me we are dealing with coming out of a pandemic right now. uhm pretty much out of it, but the world is in a lot of turmoil and we're so excited to have our students back. We had over 100 organizations at our intro day. Tell me about how you do all of this work and get so many folks engaged.

>> Wow, you know, here at Oakland University, I've been here for 28 years in various capacities and in the senior VP role now for about eight years and it's really just a labor of love. Over time Oakland is me come home and I'd think of our faculty, staff and students as family and so when you're working with family every day, It's an opportunity to make things better. When you talk about welcome week, that's the collaboration with our students, our faculty, and our staff and so we put together about 17 different programs and services that happened over two weeks span. Again, welcome everyone back to campus. Britt this was the first time in about three years so we had everybody converging on our campus and we didn't have to worry about the pandemic.

>> It was beautiful. It was so exciting to see. In that, we're also seeing our student population diversify in word now, 26% underrepresented minority and I wanted to tell our listeners what underrepresented minority stand for here at Oakland. We're looking at Native American, African-American, Latino or Latinx American are now Latine. Things are shifting in terms of the terminology, as well as a few Pacific Islander populations. So those are the folks that we're really focused on now. As the shift happens in our population, what are some of the equity issues you see as being things that we really need to focus on here at Oakland?

>> Well, first off, you don't to equity. But there is first get into diversity where we had all those different populations that you mentioned filling welcome, and invited to come to Oakland University. Then, that sense of belonging that comes with the equity piece is understanding that as you bring in different groups to campus, their needs vary and some have common needs, but the same time they vary so we have to be ready for that with different programs and services to other programs that had been around for a little while now, the oldest program and the core program administered out of the Center for Multicultural Initiatives. It serves to Native American, African-American, and Latinx population. Over time, what we see is that bringing in cohorts, of 30-40 students per year and surrounding them with services that speak to their needs, they are retained at a high rate. In fact, which you know this that there retain about the highest rate of any student population here at Oakland University.

>> That is absolutely outstanding and that's run by Omar [OVERLAPPING] Omar Brown El who does such an incredible job and his amazing team. When we're talking about equity and equality, those are two things that often get confused. Folks think that equality means equity and equity means something completely different. As you said, it really is focusing on the individual student and providing that student what they individually need. How do we you and I, between academic affairs and student affairs we juggle this. What happens in the classroom and what happens outside the classroom, and how we fortify that students experience. Can you talk a little bit about how important that relationship is and what we provide for students?

>> Well, that is important that engagement with students is critical to our faculty, our staff, and the work that we do. That on-boarding process for new student orientation to the first-year experience with students with the first year advising center. Each student making sure that they have an advice and they have touch points throughout their first semester, I think is very critical. Moving students in the different student organizations and as you know, we have over 325 student organizations. Some of them are culturally based. Again, as you talk a lot about that sense of belonging is critical. That it starts day 1 of the students interests our campus community.

>> That sense of belonging is so important because in my mind, we're looking at student comes here with the dream of a degree and that dream is so important in terms of how we wrap ourselves around in our services around that dream. When a student comes on, they feel that sense of belonging. They don't see themselves any place else but at Oakland and their success is, is definitely our success as well. As you move students through what do you think some of the challenges are coming out of the pandemic?

>> Well, it's all challenges that start in the family environment and thinking of that, I'm thinking about you and I and experience that we had this past Saturday at the Oakland University, Pontiac town hall. In that environment we saw one of our students who's a perfect example of what you're talking about the different dimensions of a person. Jared Barnett. Jared was the kid who lost his parents at an early age before he was 10 years old. He and his brother tried to take care of one another. Can you imagine that at that age, under 10 and you're trying to take care of yourself and all your different needs? But some way he made it through high school in it OCC transferred to Oakland, got involved with the campus community, took advantage of all the different services, counseling services, tutorial services. He graduated with top honors here at Oakland University. He was the first African-American students to win the Wilson Award.

>> That is just wonderful. When you see his face beaming, I've never seen a person with a smile except for you [LAUGHTER] all got this big smile on his face. Clearly finding that sense of belongingness, that sense of happiness despite everything that he's gone through. I know this year we started out the Green Bandanna project, which is really exciting in terms of really taking care of students' mental health. Can you talk a little bit about that?

>> Well, that's probably the number 1 issue now in higher education is mental health and mental health awareness and how we take care of students. One of the things that we tried to do, is a number of things including the counseling center and on campus we're fortunate to have two counseling centers, the Graham Counseling Center, as well as the School of Education Counseling Center. We're constantly monitoring the campus community in the classroom, outside the classroom, looking for students who need help in referring them to the proper resources on campus. Now the big push now is meeting the needs of all the students and we know right now We need more staff in the center.

We're looking at some of the telehealth options and a lot of schools are using those. Now we're in the process now reviewing a couple of software programs, do some telehealth communities and so, but in the semester that's going to be one on a big rollouts for students.

>> That's wonderful. In thinking about all of the mental health challenges, we are very clear here at Oakland that life doesn't stop when folks attend university. Things happen throughout and we want our students to know that they have a place to go at every moment.

>> That's critical. In my background, my master's in counseling and I've been a therapist now for over 30 some years in private practice. Mental health is something near and dear to my heart. I know that everyone comes to us with some type of crisis that they're dealing with at any given moment and we need to be ready to help those individuals cross the finish line.

>> Because that, again, that alignment of what happens in the classroom and what happens outside of the classroom is we want students to have that full breadth of experience coming through. In terms of mental health challenges as, students are engaging, we have some wonderful things here at Oakland, like the rec center. Exercise is such an important part of keeping yourself healthy and keeping yourself in that reflective, responsive state as opposed to reacting to the things that happen as you go through university. Can you talk a little bit about some of the extra things that we have?

>> The whole idea of well being in the whole person now and I like the work of Becky Lewis, the Campus Recreation because she's putting together whole agenda of programs and services in the stars with the mental health, the physical health, spiritual health, all of those different dimensions of the well being of an individual. I think what you're seeing through the Bandana program is really the takeoff of that well being in process now and being more attentive to the needs of the whole individual.

>> Absolutely. When those challenges in terms of equity as you know, we've instituted the student success and equity dashboard, which is really we're the first in Michigan to do that. I'm so excited about that dashboard and so excited about us working together because we can really get down to granular classes and see where those gaps are. How are our underrepresented students performing verses our majority white students? How are they doing in this class versus that class? It's really helping us adjust our curriculum and be much more from the classroom side. Be much more inclusive in terms of what we're doing. As we move that dashboard forward, again, that alignment is so important because it's again, we're seeing what we need. We're also supporting in terms of equity, you've been doing setting such a great example with our employee resource groups. Can you talk a little bit about what we do there?

>> Well, we have different amount of employee resource groups for different groups and black ERG, Latinx, LGBTQ.

We have a couple of faculty which you kind of spearheaded and we might talk about those too. But the whole idea is that people come in university and their needs are met. They have a sense of community, camaraderie with their colleagues, and so through the year, that's what we're trying to do, and it's amazing how that's really bled off into some different programs from our faculty and staff and those groups where they want to reach out to students and make sure they have that sense of community, so it's been fun to see.

We're going back to the equity dashboard. I think that's something important because our students have talked about that whole idea of inclusion in the curriculum. I know you're an expert on that. But they wanted to see themselves in the curriculum so they can relate to it and find value in it. What do you think about that?

>> Well, just this morning I was reading an article about educational context, and context is so important. So down to what we're asking our students to write about, how they're conceptualizing math issues. Is it relevant to their daily life experiences and making sure that, in terms of academic environment really speaks to our students experience? When they look at a problem, or they look at a prompt, or they look at a research example, it really speaks to them and as relevant to what they're doing. I think we're getting there, we're so excited about the inclusive pedagogy training program that we're starting. We're also really excited about some of the other opportunities that we have to engage our faculty in a much more intentional way and really meet the needs of our growing URM underrepresented minority demographic. Very excited.

>> Well that's important word because when you talk about the demographic changes and the number of URM students, who come to Oakland now in record numbers and you're saying 25% of our freshman class or URM students, they've got to be met and where they're at, and so the curriculum has to be relevant, and so the work that $2 is imperative is important in as timely.

>> I think in terms of their experiences, I'm really excited because the dashboard, anytime you're looking at tough news and really looking at equity gaps, but our faculty have so much embraced it and are really the deans as well, really challenging how we can reduce those equity gaps and make sure that, our graduation rates are more equitable, our URM equity gaps in terms of course passing are going well, so we're really, really excited. Sometimes it's just about sharing those data and seeing when we're all looking at the same problem, we've got a lot of incredible minds and hearts here at Oakland and we can combine that work and really start to focus, so I'm very excited.

>> I'm excited. I was obviously smiling because it's all change. One of the things that we look at data a lot of times when we pointed outward and say it's a student issue. But some of the towns we have to look and say, what can we do better as faculty and staff? Do we need to shift and change? Sometimes change is scary. If you've done things one way for a long time you become rigid. But to become relevant in the moment it requires change.

>> I do want to give a shout out to our Black Faculty Association and our Latinx Faculty Association. As well as we have an API, Asian Pacific Islander Faculty Association, and our Native American work because this is all about bridging the gap in terms of equity. One of the things that coming out of the pandemic, a lot of people were talking about our students aren't ready for college, and you and I share in this view, are we a student ready campus? Are we ready for our students? I think everything I saw on welcome week and all the enthusiasm, positive energy we're seeing on our campus every day, I think we're really ready at Oakland.

>> Yeah, I think we're getting better and better at this. One of the things that I was pleased to see, what's the math program this summer where we had students, I think it was 72 students who took advantage of that as incoming freshmen still, we know that math is one of those gateway courses that, if you don't get through that gate, you can't go into the measure that you designate and your mind, that something that you want to do as a career, and so to have those programs along with New Student Orientation and some of the things that we're really focusing on and being very intentional with how we help students select courses in the first semester in particular, has been very critical.

>> Ensuring their success, and really partnering with them to make sure that we're supporting their success. Dive in again to that equality versus equity.

With equality really being we give everybody the same thing, and equity really tailoring it around what folks need. When I think about the social determinants that people live longer if they go to college. We see all these anti-aging creams and vitamins are supposed to take and all the things that we know about aging. If you go to college, on average you live five years longer if you get a degree and it goes up from there. People are happier. They've got access to social mobility. They're making more money over the life course, and they have access to being in the room so to speak. Their peers are different, everything changes. Can you talk about that a little bit?

>> Well, I think you're touching on a different societal disparities. We have a student who arrives at a university and you don't know the history of that individual, the community they're coming from. You understand all the different social determinants that they're trying to fight off, in gaining social mobility. When you talk about health care, education system in Michigan alone school districts in Birmingham, you may get $11,000 per pupil, whereas in Detroit you get $3,500 per pupil. That's a big gap. What you can do to really enhance that education experience for that student, and so all of those different social determinants that we see students coming in the door of Oakland University and other higher-end institutions are very important for part of our job is to understand that the equity that we're seeking is at an individual level. Coming up with a granular approach to making sure that student has everything they need to be successful in this environment.

>> That is so crucial. I think I told you my story. Not very many people from my high school went to college. Lots of people didn't graduate. But it was always an expectation for me, and being phenotypically white, it was something that was expected of all white smart kids got through. I think your experience was probably a little bit different. Can you speak to that?

>> Well, it was a little different. I came from lower-income family. The school they're taking my graduating class. We started out in my freshman year when 100 students, when we had 25 that graduated. From there, four of us went off to college. How did I make that happen? It wasn't me, it was the community embracing me, telling me about different programs, summer programs such as the Chromebook experience that I had for six weeks. It opened my eyes to the possibility, and there was a couple of universities there who said, we need to help you make college affordable. Housing affordability is something that's near and dear to my heart. We know that the cost of a college education is escalating and every year for good reasons. But at the same time it comes down to kin. It'd be affordable for students, particularly when we're talking about the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion, and I know you have some thoughts around that, how we make education affordable. I think the governor has done a great job with some of the different scholarship packages available to lower-income students, and so I think it's going to help because we know that Oakland University that we frontload our students with tuition money in a lot of the external scholars to truly focused on tuition. But then it leaves a gap because those students who stay on campus, they still have that cost of that house and experience, and so what we're trying to do now in conjunction with our senior administrators and the governor's offices to really shift some of that scholarship money so it can go to things like housing, books, and other needs to students have to close that gap.

>> Which is so important because when they live on campus, at least that those first one or two years, they really get that full college experience and they're able to take advantage of everything that our campus has to offer.

>> I mean, we reconfigure Wilson Hall. That was the idea of making this the hub for students support services. That means if you're living in our residence halls, you're a five-minute walk away from Tutorial Services, academic advising, counseling, and peer mentoring. Those four key to providing support services for students.

>> For so long we think of the smart kids and the not so smart kids. But now we're starting to recognize nationally that the smart kids have often had access to the coumarin classes teaching in mathematics since they were three years old, or the tutoring, or the extra curricular opportunities that often cost money and resources that students just don't have and their families don't have. So are we really rewarding that inherent resilience or are we rewarding privilege? That's something that I'm so grateful that we are addressing at Oakland, we're really looking at those equity gaps and diving in hard.

>> Well, one of the things that you and I talked about in the late hours of the night. It's about social capital. How do we assess the intelligence level of individuals and leave out social capital? I know you have some thoughts about that.

>> I think about, back in my former state, we're running a project and we wanted students that had community service experience, and one of my students, one of the applicant said, I don't have community service experience, but I do bring my seven brothers and sisters with me to the library three times a week. I thought as a mom of three kids, I don't know how she's navigating seven brothers and sisters and a car or on the bus and getting there, that's navigational capital. How can we take that navigational capital and melded with academic capital? How do we look at our students cultural capital? How do we look at their aspirational capital? How do we look at their linguistic capital? Do they speak another language? Have they adopted from a different country? I have that their parents did they have to navigate that with their parents? All of those things are what make great CEOs because they're used to, and great leaders in our society because they're used to dealing with hard problems every day of their lives.

>> Well, again, those tools for navigation or something that we need to assess because that's learning. When you learn how to navigate, part of that word is learning how to navigate. You have to take that into account and say if a student can be successful at Oakland University is probably because the social capital they have, in the skills they have in navigating the environment that they came from.

>> Absolutely. The governor is doing a lot. I'm so excited to have moved here because she's doing a great deal to make access, to make things affordable.

Have you seen that play a difference in the students we have?

>> Well, I think some of the scholarships that we touched on before is very critical. Anything from $500-$5,000 scholarships for students is very important. Some of those are not mirrored base, which I think has been a shift. Other lanes in and out of Washington that we move away from solely married base and talk more about some of the experiences you've had at the K-12 level that make you more readily to be successful in college.

>> Glenn, I know, as our chief diversity officer, there's some critics out there, unfortunately, and maybe a little bit more in this environment sometimes. As DEI advocates, both you and I, what are those challenges?

>> I think you have to go to the national level and you talk about what's happening. In some states like Florida and Texas, and some people would describe it as a rolling back of the clock. On diversity, equity, and inclusion, when we talk about critical race theory and how that conversation is really morphed into more than it has to be because what we're talking about its history and telling the truth about history. Whether it's good, bad, or indifferent, history needs to be told because you see yourself in history and if we leave out different cultural and ethnic groups or genders, it becomes a problem. I think some of the critics out there are saying that maybe we're going too far with diversity, equity, and inclusion. My argument is that look around you, the demographics are shifting. Like it or not, we have to deal with it, and it has to be in a way where we include everyone. Everyone has to be at the table now for a discussion about how do we shape the best America and the best Oakland University.

>> Absolutely. I think about the way our kids relate to each other when they're very young. They don't have all of these. They don't.

>> It amazing because it gives you a practical example. I'm walking out to my car probably about three weeks ago, and I'm hearing this boom boom sound, I'm here in rap music that I'm aware of, and all of a sudden I'm expecting to see a student who looks like me and then I'll look and see, and it's a white student. Then you look at some of our social events on campus, some of the dances, some of the concerts. It's diverse. Our young people don't have the kind of entrenched thought processes about race and culture and differences, diversity, equity, inclusion that some of the older people do have, and that's sad to say that we have to shift with the times.

>> Absolutely. I feel so blessed that our students, when I look at the brightness, the bright future in all of their faces and the way that they interact, I feel like despite everything that's happening in the world right now, we have a really promising future because they've got it going on. They know what they're doing. As a DEI advocate, which both of us are, those challenges, when you hear people or being phenotypically white, so people often say things to me not knowing who I am and I think, wow, there's no understanding and it's different when you start to hear things like that. As we're dealing with all these dynamics where we've got students who are saying I want to use my pronouns, aren't buying into the binary males and females this. This is a lot for folks to deal with. So as we navigate all of this, we've got to give each other grace, we've got to ask the hard questions, we've got to communicate transparently, and then we've got to move through history. You mentioned history, which is so important and critical race theory. When I came here and I looked at all of the real challenges to it, it's just a lens. That's all it is, is a lens.

>> It's no different because everybody talks about the Bible and religion. The Bible is just a few individuals' perspective, their lens on the world. I was in church a couple of weeks ago and I talked about the different Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. All of them saw the same story of Jesus, but they interpret it different. That's why you have different books. It's the same thing. For me it's always been about being open and that's been my life. I've had to be open because of the places that I wanted to navigate. When I left a homogeneous community in Detroit to go off to college, all of a sudden, someone stamped me as minority. I had never been called minority in my life before. All of a sudden at orientatioon they are saying all minority students go over here, I didn't move. Someone had to tap me on the shoulder and say, hey, that's you. All of a sudden there was a mental process that happened and all of a sudden, I'm different in a way that I had never experienced before. There's an adjustment process to that. It's just like now, LGBTQ community is one of the fastest growing populations on our campus. We started the Gender and Sexuality Center some 15 years ago, to the dismay of some people. But that office has had to be moved not once but twice because of the demand from our student population. Any day you can go over to North Foundation and these students hanging out there, supporting one another to the point where I suspect that in the next 24 months we have to move it again. They're going to have to have a larger facility. We have to be open in that. Our students are coming to us saying, I want to be authentic. I want to be able to express myself in a way that it's okay to do so. If you give me that kind of space, it becomes my runway to do great things. That's our duty and responsibility. Higher education is supposed to think at a higher level.

>> I think that agency piece is so very important. In agency, we're giving folks a platform to safely explore, learn, figure out who they are as they advance in the world. Well, Glenn, it has been such a pleasure to sit with you today and talk about the amazing place that is Oakland University.

>> It is a nice place. Orissa is the university of choice. 

>> Absolutely. We want everybody to know a little bit more about us and I think today they've learned, so thank you so much for being here.

>> Thank you.

>> You've been listening to equity matters, a podcast produced by academic affairs at Oakland University

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