To increase engagement in professional development around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), the Equity Academy was created. The wide campus participation and strong support
of its effectiveness led to it being named the 2023 Innovation of the Year.

Dr. Sadya Khan, executive director of Institutional Research, Planning and Effectiveness; and Dr. Kristine Christensen, director of Faculty Development and professor of Computer Information Systems, formulated the initial idea, and a steering committee that included Dr. Cynthia Anderson, dean of Academic Development/Academic Outreach; Tamima Farooqui, employment equity manager in Human Resources; and Dr. Scott Friedman, dean of Student Engagement, developed the project. The academy is made up of two tiers, Allies and Scholars, which allows employees to participate at a level best suited to their interests and availability. Allies attend monthly DEI presentations, complete assignments within a Canvas course and provide a summative reflection at the end of the academy. Scholars participate in all of the Allies’ activities, but also attend a day-long retreat and engage in a book discussion of “From Equity Talk to Equity Walk.” The most significant difference between the two levels is Scholars conduct a research-based project.

The academy provides wide-scale access to DEI professional development by offering free interactive sessions that feature speakers and audience participation. Speakers have included leaders in the DEI field, along with Moraine Valley faculty and staff members. Sessions cover topics such as “Designing Equity-Centered Courses, Policies and Services,” “Foundations of Race and Racism” and “What is DEI?”

Faculty and staff from over a dozen departments participated at the higher level of the Equity Academy and conducted research-based projects that focused on ways to close equity gaps at the college through innovative approaches.
“The opportunity to work on a research project with support is rare outside of a grant or graduate program but invaluable for processing and implementing the ideals of diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Tina Carney-Simon, transfer coordinator. “The academy provided a perfect blend of guest speakers, mentors and guidelines to take the necessary deeper dive into the concepts of equity and allowed Scholars to put them into practice.”
Sharon Brennan, counselor, explained why she felt being a part of the academy was so valuable. “As a scholar in the Equity Academy, I was gifted the pathway to engage openly and honestly with my colleagues from across the college about equity gaps present in practice and policy. We were challenged to evaluate and respond in an atmosphere that promoted and required the implementation of new and better practices and policies that honored the diversity of
our student body,” she said.

Projects focused on goals such as reducing racism in the student code of conduct processes, using inclusive language to improve the Library’s catalog, understanding and improving equitable access to health career programs, closing equity gaps through an online academic success intervention and more. Several projects were enacted and brought about research-oriented improvements at the college. The Scholars submitted final reports in December 2022, and some shared the results of their research at the spring 2023 Staff Development Day.

Through its work with the Illinois Equity in Attainment (ILEA) initiative, the college qualified for an ILEA Catalyst Grant from the Partnership for College Completion. That grant was used to create the Equity Academy. The project spanned nearly two years and had cost approximately $10,000, which paid for speakers, materials and supplies, and plaques to recognize the Scholars.

Over 120 individuals participated in the academy, and the feedback given in the post-project evaluation was overwhelmingly positive. Respondents gave a 3.72/4 rating with 96.55% answering “Excellent” or “Good.” Many also commented the Equity Academy should be continued at the college, and the committee plans to keep the project going in some fashion in the future. It was recently decided that since the sessions were recorded in Canvas, they could be repackaged for a new version of the Equity Academy Allies program.

Khan and Christensen said in a joint statement, “It speaks to the dedication of our college in advancing their knowledge that we had over 100 people actively participating in sessions each month. They did it because the work is important, and we are committed to advancing DEI at our institution. It has been a wonderful honor and humbling experience to work with such inspiring and committed colleagues.”