IDEA evolves with new appointments

MARA DELVECCHIO/ALLEGHENY.EDU

The Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Access added three new members to its staff over the summer.
IDEA also reformed the Office of Diversity Affairs, now known as the Center for Intercultural Advancement and Student Success.  CIASS operates under the direction of IDEA.
The name change comes with a change in focus, said Associate Dean and Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Lawrence Potter, who oversees IDEA.
“Under the umbrella of Diversity Affairs, I was not sure the office was achieving what we should be achieving, primarily around academic retention,” said Potter.  “The emphasis of the Center for Intercultural Advancement and Student Success is really creating an environment where diverse student populations understand the importance of academic rigor.”
Tahirah Jordan, formerly assistant director of Financial Aid and coordinator for multicultural recruitment, was appointed this summer as the center’s director.
“We’ll hopefully create an Allegheny community resource that will help our students have better experiences here,” said Jordan.  “How we will do that is to help create inclusive environments that ultimately lead to students being more successful.”
The new office focuses more on campus-wide services that focus on education,  rather than the program-specific, student support services of Diversity Affairs, Jordan said.
“Our programs are a result of our efforts to educate, as opposed to trying to support student groups in their efforts.”
Dr. Potter elaborated on the redirected intent of the office’s programs.
“We’re in effect making sure that as we admit diverse student populations, we are finding levels of commitment to engage them so that they know how to navigate uncomfortable environments and eventually graduate,” he said.
In order to support the LGBT community specifically, IDEA appointed Steven Canals as associate director for gender and sexual orientation initiatives.
He formerly coordinated LGBT resources at the State University of New York at Cortland.
“At this point, there are certainly programs and services I have in the back of my mind, but what’s most important is for me to assess the landscape first to decide if that’s something beneficial for the Allegheny community,” said Canals.
The results of the Campus Climate Final Report released last fall, which suggested several incidences of LGBT harassment, motivated the appointment of Canals, Potter said.
“The new position that Steven has comes from my assessment and my responding to the need to have a professional who is grounded in the language and the experiences of LGBT individuals,” he said.  “And as Steven and I work together this year, I will refer constantly to the experience of marginalized voices that appear in the climate study because I think it provides part of the direction that will inform the types of programs or initiatives that he will want to do.”
Canals said that Allegheny sets itself apart from other colleges and universities in its commitment to create resources for the LGBT community.
“This particular campus has prioritized being an inclusive community and engaging in difficult dialogues about gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation,” Canals said.  That is a piece that is often missed.”
The third appointee, Samira Mehta, is Allegheny’s sixth Northeast Consortium for Faculty Dissertation scholar and joins the IDEA staff as an expert on religion.  As part of her position, she will teach a course in the spring, as well as work with Spiritual and Religious Life, which is also under the direction of IDEA.
“We think that it is important that students and employees at a liberal arts institution feel comfortable with expressing their faith as part of their lived experience,” Potter said.  “So there is a renewed emphasis on religious diversity and the intersections of that as a component of the holistic individual.”
IDEA’s programs and services will strive to meet goals this year that broadly enhance and improve the campus’ climate, Potter said.
“The first goal is that we have marked difference in terms of growth and that people feel more welcomed and included and safe,” he said. “Right now many colleges and institutions still operate heavily in silos, particularly around diversity.  And part of my work this year is to be sure that diversity, inclusion and equity are integrated into the fabric or the core of the institution.”