A new Advisory Council on Community and Diversity is in the process of gathering information for their first report regarding campus diversity next fall. The council replaced the three president’s commissions.

Administrators implemented this new council structure at the beginning of this semester as a recent shift in Emory’s diversity initiatives.

The three previous commissions, which preceded the Advisory Council, were the President’s Commission of the Status of Women, the President’s Commission on Race and Ethnicity and the President’s Commission on Sexuality, Gender Diversity and Queer Equality. They were established in 1976, 1979 and 1995 respectively.

The Advisory Council is comprised of three different parts. These include an Executive Committee, a Steering Committee, and a Divisions Committee on Community and Diversity, according to the website for the Office of the Provost.

As the council gathers information for its report, it hopes to ensure that the committees that make up the Advisory Council recognize their distinctive roles in the Council – remaining aware of the challenges and budget constraints that will affect them.

According to Christian, the Council also hopes to collect relevant and valuable information so that its three Committees can progress towards achieving their common goals.

Christian also acknowledges some challenges with this new system as he cautions that with the larger size, tasks may take a longer period of time to complete.

Also, Christian said he can foresee many Council members becoming frustrated because, whereas the commissions only had year-long projects without continuation, now the office wants to make their implementations part of Emory’s sustaining culture which takes more time and patience.

From fall 2011 to spring 2012,  Harris, Yarbough and Christian led the discussions as well as two retreats to redesign the existing infrastructure.

According to Christian, the Steering Committee is comprised of 35 members which include various directors of campus offices, enterprise experts, and at-large members – former commission members who only serve a two or three year term on the council while all other members have life-long terms.

This Steering Committee will drive the council by engaging the various divisions to take responsibility for the issues rather than the previous system that had the small commissions lead the process.

The executive committee is comprised of senior administrators.

The last committee, the Division Committees on Community and Diversity, includes liaisons from each of Emory’s nine schools.

Annually, the divisions will go through a process of reporting and goal-setting. First, the steering committee will send the divisions templates. Then, the divisions will report back with the templates.

Based on those findings, the Council will give out a report to the campus on the state of community and diversity at Emory and make recommendations to the division leaders for implementation.

“We figure we can get more done at the division level rather than trying to have small groups take on the entire enterprise,” Christian said. “The process [with the steering committees] is driven from the middle out rather than top down or from grass roots, bottom up.”

This year, the templates were sent to divisions at the end of August and currently Harris and Yarbough are meeting individually with each division leader, according to Christian. The divisions are to report to the council next fall and the council is to report to the campus next spring.

The funding will now come from within each division level rather than commission funding from the Office of Community and Diversity budget, according to Christian.

In addition, Christian said the council hopes to conduct town hall meetings in student dorms, at Oxford and other avenues where people can voice their concerns.

The three former president’s commissions used to advise President of the University James Wagner on topics regarding diversity on campus.

However, the commissions did not address all necessary topics – including certain issues related to class, race and disability. Furthermore, the commissions did not provide the best structural support for the commissions’ work, according to the Office of the Provost website.

Alexander Christian, the assistant director of the Community and Diversity office, has worked to facilitate the transition of the commissions into a singular Advisory Council and said the new council aims to represent the interests of all University divisions.

Christian said that members of the former commissions were initially hesitant of the change.

“People were comfortable with the process they had because it was what they knew,” Christian said. “I think the commissions themselves had a little mistrust for administration and their motives.”

After more communication, however, Christian saw that members became less resistant. Some of those who previously served on the commissions now serve on the council.

“We were pleasantly surprised, when we met with the divisions, that they seem to be very enthusiastic and very willing to participate and be a part of the process,” Christian said. “We feel really good so far about what we have done.”

Overall, Christian said he sees that many of the members are still in wait-and-see mode and are looking for evidence of progress.

“One of the things we found with the commission’s work … [was that] a lot of issues just rested somewhere and didn’t really move anywhere,” Christian said. “The president has a lot on his plate so there is not a lot of opportunity to disseminate a lot of that work in the areas it needed to go to.”

In addition, the new Council will collaborate with various offices on campus to address issues of diversity.

Christian expressed hope that as the transitory period continues, the Council will see that engaging the people who work in these offices can actually move things forward.

Dona Yarbrough, associate vice provost for community and diversity director at the Center for Women, and Ozzie Harris, senior Vice Provost for Community and Diversity, spearheaded efforts to help the establishment of the council and now currently leads it.

Harris could not comment in time for the publication of this article.

Harris said in a March 5 Emory Report article that Emory needs to transition to this council structure because of its increasing complexity with schools, administrative units and hospitals as the new system will expand Emory’s definition of diversity beyond race, sexual identity and gender to include class, religion, or disability.

At the same time, however, the Emory Report article acknowledged the commission system’s successes “from encouraging the university’s statement of regret over its historic ties to slavery, to creating lactation rooms, to initiating the first policies regarding transgender people on campus.”

Through the commissions’  work, the article said, the Center for Women, Office of LGBT Life, and Office of Community and Diversity were created.

– By Karishma Mehrotra