RIC President Frank D. Sánchez was honored at an event last Friday by the Association for Equality and Excellence in Education (AEEE) for “standing in the forefront in the fight for education equity.”
At their 40th anniversary celebration, the AEEE gave awards to “pioneers in education advocacy, committed to advancing the ideals of equal educational access for first-generation, low-income and disabled students.”
It’s clear that Sánchez has embodied these ideals throughout his young presidency at RIC. When he first came to the college nine months ago, Sánchez sought to learn about the institution’s culture, its strengths and its challenges.
After many conversations and observations with students, faculty, staff and alumni, one reality began to emerge: “RIC’s identity and character, often led by our students, is not defined by others’ background, income, race, ethnicity or gender,” Sánchez said. “We can build on our existing strengths by striving to ensure all students have the cultural competency and emotional agility to be effective in today’s society, while reinforcing the fabric of our democracy.”
True to his student-centered style, Sánchez took immediate steps to ensure RIC would continue to be a welcoming place for all students. Many of these initiatives were recommended by the college’s Dialogue on Diversity Committee, building on RIC’s long history of supporting diversity and inclusion.
Office of Community, Equity and Diversity
This new office places a greater emphasis on diversity and inclusion at RIC and aims to centralize and integrate the efforts of RIC’s Unity Center, Disability Services Center, Women’s Center, International Student Services and Interfaith Center. Led by Anna Cano Morales, associate vice president for community, equity and diversity, the office interfaces regularly with college leadership to ensure that active and viable diversity and community initiatives are being developed and implemented across all divisions.
“People want to talk about diversity and they also want action,” said Cano-Morales. “There is a healthy appetite for change that is shared by students and faculty alike. My first three months on campus have been reassuring that the important equity and inclusion work ahead will be foundational and will lead RIC to become a national model for social justice.”
An important distinction of the office is the addition of a director of institutional equity. In this role, Margaret Lynch-Gadaleta serves as educator, trainer and spokesperson regarding issues of access, equity, opportunity and Title IX. Prioritizing these critical areas, she is responsible for Title IX and affirmative action compliance, investigations, policies and implementing best practices across the college.
President’s Commission on Inclusive Excellence
Seeking guidance from the Rhode Island community, President Sánchez recently assembled his Commission on Inclusive Excellence, a group of leaders around the state carefully selected for their expertise and experience in the areas of diversity and inclusion. Commission members provide a sounding board for RIC’s administration and will serve as an advisory board for the college going forward.
“Inclusive excellence is an active process”
Further underscoring the importance of inclusive excellence, President Sánchez has made it a central pillar in Rhode Island College’s 2020 Strategic Action Plan and a key component of his recent inaugural address. He also instituted the First-in-Family Fund to help first-generation college students achieve their dreams.
“Inclusive excellence is an active process,” he said. “It is not a distinct initiative that is separate from our other planning efforts. We will advance inclusive excellence across all areas as part of an institutional transformation.”