UW–Madison’s LaVar Charleston, the School of Education’s associate dean for equity, diversity and inclusion, took part in a virtual discussion on June 17 titled, “Advancing Equity when Campus is Closed.”
Charleston reflected on the challenges his office has faced during the COVID-19 campus closure and discussed initiatives within the School of Education that promote an equitable and inclusive culture, as well as work that still needs to be done. Charleston noted the importance of addressing this topic during a time when our country and communities are reeling due to what he referred to as “two pandemics” — that is, “COVID-19 that has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color, and also the impact of systemic racism that has permeated throughout our country for literally over 400 years and that has again come to a boiling point.”
The virtual event was hosted by the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education (WISCAPE) and moderated by Clif Conrad, a Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor with the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, and the faculty director of WISCAPE. (View a full recording of this discussion on the WISCAPE YouTube channel.)
Charleston spoke about his role within the School of Education and the creation of the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in 2019, as well as the formulation of a School-wide diversity statement that will be instrumental in guiding the School’s efforts. He also noted numerous programs and initiatives within the School of Education that are working to advance equity, inclusion, and justice for youth and college students (both undergraduate and graduate) and foster research in this area.
In speaking about UW–Madison’s, and specifically the School of Education’s, response to equity concerns that arose during the COVID-19 campus closure, Charleston highlighted the importance of wellness checks on students conducted by 190 School of Education faculty and staff.
“This way we didn’t have to guess, or assume, what the (student) concerns were.” he said. “We were able to find those out.”
These wellness checks were instrumental not only in providing human connection and emotional support for vulnerable students, but also in connecting students to resources, identifying students with significant needs, and documenting the challenges faced by students so that effective policies can be formulated to address these challenges in the future.
Finally, Charleston shared his thoughts on what UW–Madison can do to combat racism on campus and in our community. He recommended creating programs for staff, as well as faculty, and mandating professional development for faculty and staff that supports anti-racist classrooms and curriculum.
In addition, he noted the importance of promoting and designing structures for civil discourse on campus that enable students to exercise their free speech, while also teaching them to “value and respect others’ point of view,” and in creating additional social outlets for people of color.
To learn much more about this important topic, check out a recording of the full event via this YouTube link.