This school year will see an increased drive to fulfill Pacific Lutheran University’s values of diversity, justice and sustainability, as Jen Smith, the current director of the Center for Gender Equity, steps up to hold the new Dean of Inclusive Excellence position.

Starting in January, this office will focus on coordinating the existing initiatives for diversity in classrooms and assessing how the university can be more effective in upholding its values.

Jennifer Smith, Director of the Women’s Center (Photo/John Froschauer)

This position has been in development since 2010, when the need was identified for someone to coordinate diversity-related work within the academic affairs division, a parallel to the existing position within student life. Since 2013, the Diversity, Justice and Sustainability (DJS) Taskforce and the University Diversity Committee (UDC) have worked to make the Dean of Inclusive Excellence position a reality, and this past summer Jen Smith was hired to fill the position.

Smith hopes to reach out to academic divisions to introduce them to her work and “establish some collaborative relationships with them.” By working with faculty across a variety of divisions, Smith hopes to help faculty think about power dynamics and individual differences within the classroom and do that work with enthusiasm.

Smith also plans to assess the effectiveness of ongoing diversity initiatives within the university and issue a regular report to the community about how her work makes a difference in the culture of the university.

“We’ll be thinking about what diversity means in our classroom spaces and within our faculty,” said Smith. “It can be complicated work but I think it’s necessary work to think about and engage critically with.”

In the long-term, Smith hopes that this initiative will improve the way students and faculty relate to one another. “One of the biggest goals for the position will be changing climate on campus so that all of our students feel that they belong to PLU and that means that there is some significant changes to be made about how we teach, what we teach, that is cognizant of who we’re teaching and who we are as professors,” said Smith.

As she moves forward  in her new position, Smith plans to stay connected to students by teaching classes, and said she is “always happy to hear from students about what their visions are for the position and what their hopes are.” ◼︎

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