MHU Adopts Academic Commitments to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

This was originally published in the Fall 2020 edition of the Mars Hill University Magazine.

When the history of 2020 is written, it will be seen, not just as a time of pandemic, but also as a time when an explosion of rage and protest nationwide forced the country to confront a series of uncomfortable questions about the state of race relations. Chief among them are: Do Black lives really matter in America?

And does our nation really offer, as promised in our pledge of allegiance, “liberty and justice for all”?
Academic and administration officials at Mars Hill University sought to make a powerful statement to its students, and beyond, that MHU is an institution which is “vigorously committed to anti-racism, equity, and inclusion,” when in June of this year, it published a series of academic commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

According to Amanda Knapp, Ph.D., chair of the faculty for ’20-’23, the document was created by the  academic deans, the provost, the past and current faculty chair, and the directors of the centers for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) and Community Engagement, and included items that the faculty commit to doing in order to be more inclusive.

“This document was inspired by reactions of some of our students and alums to the issues of inequality going on in our country,” she said. “Although their reflections on their experiences at Mars Hill were hard to hear, we truly appreciated their honesty. It gave us pause and made us take an honest look at the policies we do and do not have on campus that may be causing inequality.”

Jonathan McCoy ’92, director of the Center for DEI, said the goal was to create a unified community, rooted in diversity, equity, and inclusion, ideals which are in keeping with the core of MHU, and the liberal arts education it offers.

“The goal wasn’t just to look at what MHU has done before, but to admit that we haven’t worked hard enough to sustain and advance our mission of creating a diverse, inclusive community equitable to all,” he said. “We then worked to develop sustainable benchmarks with realistic pathways to not only achieving them but to continually improving upon them.”

Among the most obvious and visible steps to be taken for this fall, are (1) the movement of the Office of DEI to Renfro Library, where it will have a more accessible and prominent role in the life of the university, and (2) the institution of training and other programs on campus for faculty, staff, and students which raise awareness on issues like implicit bias and microaggressions toward African-Americans, other minority groups, and LGBTQ+ students. But perhaps the most important promise of the commitments is less visible: that the university pledges to maintain a continued stance of listening and learning from underrepresented
student groups.

“As we come together in the fall, the types of questions our students of color will be asking the MHU community will center around ‘Are you listening to what we have to say and working to act on our concerns?’” McCoy said. “‘Or, are you not really listening to us and are trying to get back to a state of being comfortable?’ Answering these questions means having difficult uncomfortable conversations. This requires listening and meditating on what is said.”

Knapp said, “We acknowledge that we do not know all of the actions that need to be taken at Mars Hill in the area of equity and inclusion, but we are committed to listening, learning, and then taking action to improve so that everyone has a richer experience.”

Our Commitments

To the Mars Hill University community:

Institutions of higher education, including Mars Hill College/University, despite their high ideals, have long contributed to systemic inequities. We must do better, and we will do better. We promise to endeavor to do so. There are no right words in this watershed moment of such immense suffering and turmoil engulfing communities across our nation and world, but there are right actions we can begin to take together that will move us forward. We are committed to listening to and learning from every voice. We are committed to remembering that there is much we do not know. We are committed to the work of dismantling the systems that serve some but not all. Healthy education, like income, housing, and health care, is a human rights issue. The resolution below is a first step towards becoming a better institution, vigorously committed to anti-racism, equity, and inclusion, and we can only apologize that these actions were not taken sooner.

The undersigned members of the Mars Hill faculty, teaching staff, and academic administration, resolve to:

  • Engage actively in professional development related to diversity, equity, and inclusion as
    a primary focus of the August, 2020, faculty workshops and commit to ongoing professional development in this vital area.
  • Make discussions of diversity, equity, and justice a more integral part of the FY (First Year) curriculum.
  • Revise existing curricula to better include diverse voices and experiences, in all disciplines, at the course and program level.
  • Embrace and learn about inclusive teaching/pedagogy, and commit to faculty development in this area.
  • Ensure that students, faculty, and staff representing diverse viewpoints and experiences have more regular, meaningful opportunities to give voice to those viewpoints and experiences in ways that will bring concrete change to campus (e.g., listening sessions, focus groups).
  • Work intentionally to create an academic environment in which all students have an equitable opportunity to be academically successful, and make changes in instruction and support whenever we discover disparities.
  • Help to create a campus environment free from discriminating symbols historically associated with supremacist or genocide movements.

Lists such as this one will always be insufficient and incomplete; this is a working document, and a beginning. We do not limit ourselves to the above resolutions, and we further pledge to create ongoing opportunities designed to identify how else we can improve, both personally and systemically, as we work towards making Mars Hill an educational community more deeply committed to equity and inclusion for all of our diverse voices. We have beliefs and must strive to live up to them. We believe that responsibility is the foundation of a community. Being responsible calls us to do the things we need to do so that we may be who we say we are. Being responsible means that we must acknowledge, confront, and address our shortcomings and reaffirm our commitment to being and doing better. Our responsibility, as an institution and as individuals, is to create and maintain a community that is both safe and empowering (mentally, emotionally, and physically). The inequalities brought into the harsh light of day by COVID-19 and the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery exist not only nationally but here on our campus. And we pledge to work together as a responsible community to be and do better.

Amanda Knapp, Faculty Chair, 2020-23
Tracy Parkinson, Provost
Donna Parsons, Dean of Professional Programs and Social Sciences
Scott Pearson, Dean of Math and Sciences
Joanna Pierce, Dean of Arts and Humanities
Marc Mullinax, Faculty Chair, 2017-20
Jonathan McCoy, Interim Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Deb Myers, Director of the Center for Community Engagement