Whittier College has named Professor of Child Development and Whittier Scholars Program Associate Director Dr. Kay Sanders their new Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. A new position, Sanders as Associate Dean will be an integral part of the College’s reform for diversifying education in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Sanders is currently working as a professor in the Education and Child Development department in addition to transitioning out of the Whittier Scholars Program’s Associate Director’s position. According to Dean sal johnston, her “prior administrative work, experience providing anti-bias training, and service on the Faculty Personnel Committee” are Sanders’ “exceptional qualifications” which made her the right choice for this role.
Sanders’ scholarly work focuses on “racial and ethnic socialization and how our practices in childhood relate to subsequent social and emotional behaviors, as well as racial attitudes, later on in life.” She believes that this scholarly work, as well as her personal identity, have prepared her for her new job as Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. “I am a Black, cisgender woman. That identity informs how I am perceived, how I am treated, and how I go [through] the world,” she said. Her scholarly work has also shown that people’s identities and perspectives are enforced “by family, community, and also structural and systemic structures of inequity in our society,” which form her approach to her role as Associate Dean.
Due to this research, Sanders believes it is easy for people to “fall back on [their] assumptions without even realizing it,” which can enforce exclusion. In her work for the Whittier Scholars Program, Sanders made it her priority to not succumb to that way of thinking and instead structured policy and curricular planning “with an inclusive and collaborative lens.” She plans to “bring the same collaborative and thoughtful planning to [her] work as Associate Dean,” said Sanders.
Sanders’ personal experiences have given her “a window” into the significance of racial inequity, which has contributed to her philosophy for enacting racial equity as Associate Dean. “[All of us] need to be aware of the ‘blindspots’ in [our] experience[s],” said Sanders. “That is the first step for all of us if we want to create an equitable and inclusive culture at Whittier: become aware of your own biases and work intentionally and explicitly to counter them. Therefore, we approach discussions about racial inclusion by starting with the self.”
Sanders believes Audre Lorde summed up her own views on race relations pretty well in her quote “We have all been programmed to respond to human differences in one of three ways: ignore it, and if that is not possible, copy it if we think it is dominant, or destroy it if we think it is subordinate. But we have no patterns for relating across our human differences as equals.”
According to the College Cabinet’s Aug. 5 email, some of Sanders’ responsibilities as Associate Dean include advocating for the “structural changes necessary to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion within Academic Affairs.” While still early on in her new role, Sanders acknowledges that the College has already made progress to see this mission complete: “we are not starting from scratch,” said Sanders. She believes the College’s regular assessment of its practices and policies has provided her with data that will help inform her of what structural reforms are crucial and necessary, along with additional data she plans to collect as Associate Dean of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. Sanders also credits the Inclusion and Diversity Committee, which has been a multi-year process to develop, with promoting racial equity on campus.
Sanders sees the three overarching aims of the College’s racial justice and equity plan:
- Representation (creating a campus community that reflects the rich diversity of our region)
- Belonging (achieving a campus climate in which all members feel supported in their identities and have the sense that they are a valued and important member of our community)
- Advocacy (in terms of establishing Whitter as a leader in equity in higher education because we should be)
Some of this reform requires the College to analyze their current practices. This includes the “level of diversity that is present within departments and divisions; an examination of the content of curriculum in terms of courses, and also our teaching practices.” Additionally, Academic Affairs is ensuring its tenure process is inclusive and non-discriminatory to increase the faculty’s diversity in the long term.
“[W]e have the leadership in place to make [racial justice and equity] a priority at Whittier so that we live up to the ethos of our Quaker heritage to value all equally and oppose any force that may harm or threaten them. I don’t think we have done that in the past. My goal is to work intentionally and methodically toward making those ideas tangible realities for our community,” said Sanders.
One of Sander’s top priorities is leading the Academic Affairs’ response to bias reports. As Associate Dean, Sanders has started “collaborating with the Dean of Students’ Office on evaluating and exploring equitable alternatives to bias reports that involve Academic Affairs.” Another priority for Sanders includes helping train academic staff in racial equity and justice training. “This is a campus-wide need and, therefore, the Dean of Students Office, which is the office with oversight and responsibility over student life, and Academic Affairs work together on this,” said Sanders.
As the first module of the school year comes to an end, Sanders will continue helping the campus community as she transitions from her roles as WSP Director to Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
“All who come to Whittier College belong, need to feel represented, valued and included in real ways, not as tokens. If we don’t do that, we fail as a community,” said Sanders.
Featured image: Courtesy of the Communications Office