A rise in retention and graduation rates among African American students at Lawrence speaks to focused work on equity issues across campus, says Kimberly Barrett, vice president for diversity and inclusion.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Lawrence University is being honored for its work in becoming a more diverse and inclusive campus.

INSIGHT Into Diversity, the oldest and largest diversity-focused publication in higher education, announced that Lawrence is one of 90 recipients of its 2020 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award. Lawrence will be featured, along with the other recipients, in the November issue of the magazine.

It’s a notable honor because it recognizes the significant progress Lawrence has made in recent years, but it comes with the understanding that this is a work in progress, said Kimberly Barrett, who joined Lawrence as its first vice president for diversity and inclusion in 2016.

“Although much work remains to be done, this honor acknowledges the progress that has been made in both achieving equitable academic outcomes for students of all backgrounds as well as in our efforts to increase the diversity of folks working and learning at Lawrence,” Barrett said. “Like institutions around the country, we must continue to enhance the quality of these efforts.”

Lenore Pearlstein, publisher of INSIGHT Into Diversity, said the HEED Award follows a “comprehensive and rigorous” application process.

“Our standards are high, and we look for institutions where diversity and inclusion are woven into the work being done every day across their campus,” Pearlstein said.

Barrett pointed to retention and graduation rates at Lawrence for African American students, which have gone up significantly over the past half decade. In the most recent Diversity & Inclusion Annual Report, it’s noted that the graduation rate for African American students at Lawrence is up 56%, and the retention rate for students of color has been equal to or above white students over the past three years. That, Barrett said, speaks to progress being made in achieving racial equity on campus.

Initiatives such as the annual Cultural Competency Lecture Series, the work of the Inclusive Pedagogy Committee, the annual Diversity Planning Retreat that keeps a leadership focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion topics, and the growth and activity of various employee affinity groups have helped move efforts forward, Barrett said.

National honor spotlights Lawrence affinity group. See details here.

From 2015 to 2020, the percentage of students of color at Lawrence has increased from 19% of the student body to 26%, Barrett said. The number of faculty of color also has grown over that five-year period, going from 13% of total faculty to 17%. The number of staff who identify as people of color saw a jump of 65%.

Besides Barrett’s vice president position, other new leadership positions added since 2016 to address equity and inclusion include the Julie Esch Hurvis Dean of Spiritual and Religious Life, a Title IX coordinator, a Diversity Center coordinator, and a Dean of Academic Success.

Also, through a grant from the Mellon Foundation and the work of the President’s Committee on Diversity Affairs, Lawrence has implemented training to enhance the process for recruiting diverse applicants for faculty positions. Another grant from the Mellon Foundation has led to the diversifying of curriculum and the development of new pedagogical methods.

In recent months, as a movement for social justice has elevated conversation and calls for systematic change across the country, Barrett has been leading a series of virtual workshops on antiracism for Lawrence faculty and staff. Those conversations will continue with the return of students to campus, either in person or from a distance, for Fall Term. Barrett also has stepped up as a leader with Imagine Fox Cities, a local initiative aimed at fostering conversations on a range of societal and community issues, including diversity and inclusion. That work has included, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizing virtual conferences on topics related to social justice.  

In a recent letter to the Lawrence community in advance of the start of Fall Term, President Mark Burstein pledged continued focus on issues of equity and inclusion.

“We continue to dismantle systemic racism through individual and organizational learning; through curricular, pedagogical, and policy change; and through enhanced efforts to increase the racial diversity of students, faculty, and staff,” he wrote. “We also continue to collaborate with the City of Appleton to help ensure that Lawrentians are safe and welcome here. Our goal is to create a campus climate that allows each of us to feel that we belong in this community whether we are learning on campus or at a distance.”

Lawrence wants to be a leader on these issues, both on campus and in the Fox Cities, Barrett said. The HEED Award is recognition that that hard work is being done and, despite setbacks and frustrations, progress is being made.

“Despite the work that still remains ahead,” she said, “it is important to acknowledge and celebrate the righteous work in which we have been engaged because, as Audre Lorde wrote, ‘Even the smallest victory is never to be taken for granted. Every victory must be applauded, because it is so easy not to battle at all, to just accept and call that acceptance inevitable.’”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu