Emerson reinforces BRE findings

By Olivia LeDuc , Staff Writer

Findings from Emerson’s evaluation from Beyond Racial Equity’s comprehensive report determined that inclusivity and accessibility hindrances still block marginalized students’ experiences at the college.

In an email sent to the Emerson community on Oct. 24, Interim President William Gilligan announced the college will address seven priority areas based on BRE’s findings to strengthen equity, access, and social justice in the next two-to-three years: values and culture, communication and collaboration, leadership, accessibility, retention, accountability, and community.

Emerson employed BRE—an external consultant with expertise in conducting structural and systemic analyses of equity—to finalize its Strategic Review in 2021, cracking down on student experiences during the discovery process to learn of the barriers that exist for marginalized students.

In June 2021, the college released a request for proposals, allowing external consultants to analyze the college’s restraints in fully representing marginalized students. In 2021, Emerson awarded BRE the contract for the strategic review, whose findings flag conversations and themes of equity the Emerson community has been discussing. The process took place during the 2021-22 academic year.

According to the report, Emerson demonstrated a desire to recognize the barriers that interfere with the full participation and belonging of marginalized groups within the college community, however, work within the institution remains to systematically improve the student experience.

“The priority areas provide a roadmap from an external perspective to shape priorities and reinforce Emerson’s values of equity, access, and social justice in ways that make us accountable for systemic change,” Poku said. 

Strategic and thoughtful change will encourage the college’s commitment to infusing an inclusive community, Poku added. 

The priority areas were established in partnership with the BRE project team, the making Emerson IDEAS team, and select students from the presidential advisory group for community and equity.

The making Emerson IDEAS team and students from PAG participated in focus groups and direct interviews with consultants from BRE and provided information and context based on their roles and connections to the college.

BRE’s strategic review process detailed key takeaways for Emerson to integrate an approach that heightens a sense of belonging for BIPOC students, students with disabilities, and students from other marginalized groups.

Poku said the finalized report calls for a response to ensure marginalized identities can thrive at Emerson. 

Keeping in recommendation with the report, the college will create a standing equity, action, and social justice committee composed of the Board of Trustees and will engage key leadership positions within the college in a series of training to reflect on leadership styles, intersectionality, and multiple forms of institutional bias. 

Additionally, Emerson will reimagine the PAG to include a more diverse pool of community members and form a retention working group focused on BIPOC, international, marginalized, and disabled students.

The college pledged to invest in more staff positions in student affairs and the Social Justice Center to improve access in the community, mental health initiatives, and honor the advocates of disability justice, and will invest in resources that track and inform the college that will hold it accountable to its values and aspirations.

Progress on priority areas is a collective responsibility, the email states, but Poku will lead the effort mainly in consultation with the president’s council, overseen by Gilligan. 

“I am hopeful that the priority areas and our efforts to involve students in many aspects of those areas will increase students’ confidence that equity, inclusion, and social justice are values of the college that we are living into daily,” Poku said. 

Emerson launched the BRE Strategic Review in support of the ESOCWeekOfAction and Access: Student Disability Union’s Action Plan for Disability Justice from November 2020 and April 2021, respectively.

“Conducting the strategic review is one of the ways Emerson intentionally invested time and funds in equity work,” Poku said. 

Students appreciate “the hands-on and application focus of the college’s programs” but believe it is disrupted by Emerson’s performative actions from a systemic perspective, the report read.

Both groups were given access to the report and provided feedback that shaped how the college prioritized the initial key areas for the next few years, Poku said. 

The report also highlighted several core areas—compass, culture, leadership, structure and programs, faculty and staff, and communication and marketing—that could improve to amplify student experience in the long term. 

Further, the report concluded Emerson is eager to better understand the blockades that imbalance student experience. However, the challenge for many was uncertainty about how to make improvements for marginalized students. 

“The work needed to address the Emerson experience is foundational, deep, and requires a never-ending commitment; there are no shortcuts,” the report reads.

Updates on the college’s priority commitments will be posted regularly on Emerson’s Community Equity Action Plan website, and the Emerson community will be formally updated once a semester. 

“Positive institutional change takes all of us,” Gilligan wrote in the email. “This will be a community-wide effort where your ideas and assistance will be critical to our success.”