Key initiatives at Amherst College that are elevating diversity and inclusion

Amherst College


In the tenth of our interviews with key speakers who are presenting at SEC 11th -12th October 2018, Norm Jones talks about the initiatives at Amherst College which are elevating diversity and inclusion.

Prior to taking up his current position as Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Amherst College, Norm Jones served as Associate Chief Diversity Officer and Deputy Director in the Office of the Assistant to the President for Institutional Diversity and Equity at Harvard University, US. The office held responsibilities for the coordination of university-wide diversity and inclusion efforts, including oversight of the Administrative Fellows Program, one of Harvard’s flagship diversity programmes.  The office also oversaw compliance functions related to Title IX, University Disability Services and Affirmative Action and Equal Employment Opportunity.

Could you explain a little about Amherst’s position and commitment to diversity and inclusion?

Amherst has one of the most racially diverse student bodies among US private, liberal arts colleges. The institution is also focused on recruitment and retention of faculty and staff that more appropriately reflects the diversity of our student community. We are working to build a culture of inclusion, belonging, respect for all persons and a community where all people thrive.

How far do you feel higher education institutions in general have come in the last 10-15 years in terms of embracing racial, ethnic, socioeconomic and geographic diversity?

Higher education has made vast improvements as it relates to increased racial and ethnic diversity of students. The extent to which this shift has been “embraced” is a matter of culture and climate, predicated upon changed behaviours at the individual, team and systems level. A fundamental understanding of intersecting identities should compel an institution to think about race, ethnicity, class status and geographic places of origin in separate, albeit connected, domains.

How important do you feel cross-sector interaction and collaboration is to addressing equality and diversity in public, private and academic sectors?

I believe collaboration is key to addressing equality and diversity, regardless of sector. Higher education has been an active participant in exclusive excellence. As educational institutions move toward inclusive excellence, we are drawing on diversity and inclusion successes in other sectors. The aims of these sectors are different. The shared community – students at various places in their learning – cohere to these sectors.

Why do you feel such collaboration is often missing and what more can be done to foster cooperation?

I think our culture has failed to think of education and work as a kind of extended curriculum. The arc of one’s development doesn’t conclude with graduation from college or even graduate or professional school. If the systems that guide the working world are partially predicated upon learning and development, more organisations should “hardwire” their structures with opportunities for workers and community members to deepen their learning in service of a common good.

Why is it important for diversity officers to steward the work of integrating diversity and inclusion principles into the day-to-day operations of colleges and universities?

Higher education has an opportunity to shape learning in ways that other organisations cannot. This is highly informed by an understanding of difference.  Diversity and inclusion work is often relegated to programmes, projects and initiatives. While this is important, the integration of diversity and inclusion principles into the operation of colleges and universities is a matter of ecology. The same principles that undergird programmes should undergird policy development, organisational design and (whole) systems transformation efforts.

Could you expand on a few of the diversity and inclusion programmes Amherst is engaged in and how successful they have been so far?

Amherst is engaged in several initiatives that elevate the importance of inclusion and belonging to an institutional conversation. These are propositions that transcend the student experience and hold important connections to faculty and staff communities. We are engaged in an oral histories project that asks students to find out more about the origins of their respective affinity groups by learning important histories, and connecting with alumni to discuss topics that are important and germane to their experience. All oral histories are done as internships through the college’s library and students are trained in videography, interviewing, transcription and editing.

What are the biggest challenges you foresee in terms of creating a diversity and inclusion balance, both in industry and academic sectors?

Most industries have not adequately dealt with the systemic underpinnings of discrimination. This inability to get to the “core” of issues that divide and exclude cannot reasonably be addressed through projects, programmes, or initiatives that do not take into account issues of structural inequality and systemic oppression.

You can find out more about the STEMM Equality Congress here

You can find out more about Norm Jones here