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York College Makes Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion a Priority

November 01, 2022
DEI Fellows
Reginald Sullivan ’22 (left) and JaNýa Brown ’24 (right)

From student input to the DEI Fellows to a new Director of Student Diversity and Inclusion, York College of Pennsylvania takes steps to build a campus culture where every student feels at home.

Throughout 2021 and 2022, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have come to the forefront at York College of Pennsylvania.

Political Science major Reginald Sullivan ’22 and Forensic Chemistry major JaNýa Brown ’24 are among those who have worked hard to promote DEI in the College community.

During his first semester at York College, Reginald learned that the school didn’t include a DEI course as a general education requirement. He decided to act. He and JaNýa met with the provost and began putting together a presentation that outlined how to incorporate more DEI into the curriculum.

Two students take the lead

Throughout the 2021 Spring Semester, the duo worked tirelessly on weekends and in their spare moments to create a presentation for the Provost Council. They explored how York College could improve the experience and its retention rates for underrepresented students.

JaNýa says, “It’s important that underrepresented minorities are included on campus. Showing where it’s truly valued is a great way to better build up the community on campus and to prepare students on campus for what they’ll experience when they graduate.”

After making their presentation to the Provost Council, JaNýa and Reginald were hired by Dr. Kay McAdams, Interim Dean of the School of the Arts, Communication, and Global Studies, to create a DEI module that could be incorporated into first-year seminar courses.

During the 2021 Fall Semester, Reginald and JaNýa ran the module inside nine courses, conducted before and after surveys, and presented their findings to the provost. Overall, they found that students had increased their understanding of DEI.

“Outcomes are met when the program is truly inviting to all,” Reginald says.

Based on what they learned, Reginald and JaNýa recommended creating DEI modules and materials that faculty members across all majors could incorporate into their courses. The pair eventually would like to see more DEI-focused classes added to general education options.

“If you would like to see a change happen,” JaNýa says, “be brave and bold enough to say it.”

Another result of their efforts was that the provost agreed to sponsor a DEI Fellows program that would look for ways to incorporate DEI into the curriculum and campus life.

The first DEI Fellow

Suzanne Delle, Associate Professor of Theatre, agreed to become the first DEI Fellow and Chair of the Diversity Committee for the 2022 Spring Semester. For her, the importance of equity and equality came to a head during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We all had to adjust our teaching style to high flex,” she says. Her focus was to ensure that every student was able to thrive in that environment. At the same time, she began training with theatrical intimacy educators and working on a podcast exploring trauma in the arts.

“Issues of inclusion and consent really started to percolate throughout everything I do,” she says.

As a member of the Provost Council, Delle was intrigued by JaNýa and Reginald’s work. Becoming the first DEI Fellow seemed like a great way to add weight to the work she had been exploring.

She and Dr. Minghui Ma, Assistant Professor of Marketing and the second DEI Fellow, knew that the College would be bringing on board a Director of Student Diversity and Inclusion in May 2022. Their goal was to set up a fact-finding mission to take stock of where York College stood and help prepare the way for the new director.

“At York College, we want to make sure that our college is accessible to all,” Delle says. “How we structure courses, what we include, how we talk to our students and each other as faculty, all of those things will make us a more inclusive community that will challenge our students in ways they don’t even know they need to be challenged yet.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Delle has remade all her classes, including how she assesses and grades her students, keeping her newfound knowledge and experiences in mind. DEI has become ingrained in every decision she makes as a professor.

Going forward

In May 2022, Alexander Hernández-Siegel became York College’s Director of Student Diversity and Inclusion. He not only will work in that role but will also serve as Chief Diversity Officer and direct the spiritual life division of the campus.

Serving at the interface of race, culture, and religion, Hernández-Siegel hopes to make York College a DEI role model for other institutions.

He wants to explore areas and groups that are under supported, such as the Muslim and Hindu population, and ensure that mentorship opportunities abound for all students, including BIPOC (black, Indigenous, and people of color) and LGBTQ+.

“This has to be a platform where students feel safe to grow,” he says.

 At the end of the day, Hernández-Siegel wants to ensure that the family-like feeling that so many point to at York College is available to all who come to campus. He wants to build a campus culture where every student can feel at home.

It’s a vision that many students and faculty, including Reginald, JaNýa, and the DEI Fellows, are excited to see become evermore a reality.