Design initiative expands college's discussion

Jordan Brooks wanted a unified way for faculty, staff and students in the College of Design to talk about being involved in diversity, equity and inclusion.

He saw what other directors of multicultural student success were doing and the programs colleges were committed to. The College of Human Sciences' #SquadCare Pop Up Shop, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences' LEAD IT Collective and the College of Engineering's LEAD program provided examples of promoting diversity, equity and inclusion.

"I am the newest to my position, and I work around women of color who have been doing awesome work in their colleges for a long time," said Brooks, Design's director of equity, inclusion and multicultural student success. "I just have to match their greatness, and everyone does it uniquely for how their college is situated."

When Brooks began in March 2019, he took time to listen and learn before creating the #InclusiveByDesign initiative to build on work already being done in the college. 

Three-pronged approach

#InclusiveByDesign is supported through three main efforts.

The Friday before classes begin for fall and spring semester, all faculty and staff take part in development around diversity, equity and inclusion. Brooks follows up with departmental workshops throughout the year on areas of need.

"It is really the training phase of the program," he said.

Open discussions are designed to create dialogue between faculty, staff and students.

"The goal is to get our community engaged and used to checking in on these conversations," Brooks said. "We want to remove positionality so that our dean can be talking to a first-year student and they can come together, but still can go back and use their position to help effect change."

Drop-ins are lessons through immersive activities that spark conversation on a topic. This year, Brooks has several large wooden boxes with questions painted on them that can be placed around the college or campus. The questions are supplied by the BUILD (Building Up In Leadership by Design) learning community, open to historically marginalized students and led by Brooks and graduate student Marwa Elkashif. The questions change with the topic, but people can sit on the boxes -- while physically distanced -- and have a discussion. The most recent questions focused on stress management and how a person's identity impacts it.

Making strides

One of the goals identified during a spring workshop was to diversify the curriculum in the college to make room for other points of view. College leaders responded by backing a three-day workshop allowing faculty to research new courses and get help adjusting their syllabi. Two open discussions were conducted over Zoom and another is set for Nov. 5.

"I think they are really productive," Brooks said. "Conversations happen in that space, and we are able to do different programs to address a need."

There are three more drop-ins planned for fall semester on Oct. 15, Nov. 3 and Nov. 19. Brooks wanted to have an open discussion and a drop-in during the week of the general election to address issues from all sides.

"There is always energy and discussion of 'What do we do now?, What do we continue to do?'" Brooks said. "To engage our faculty, staff and students in those types of conversations is something we should invite."

Brooks also is working on online lessons to incorporate diversity, equity and inclusiveness into the design field, for example, how to conduct culturally sensitive inquiry as a planner or landscape architect.

Conscientious designers

Brooks works to combine messages with design concepts that allow them to be more easily understood and accepted by his audience. The biggest goal is to have actions match words.

"Design has the ability to be oppressive or liberate people," he said. "When you think of all of our majors, we can create things that can hinder people or welcome all people. I see folks in this college that have been committed to this for some time getting reenergized and motivated to continue to push."