Peer Review

Fostering Inclusive Excellence for All Carthage College Students

Carthage College is a private, not-for-profit, primarily undergraduate, liberal arts and sciences institution with total enrollment of approximately 3,000 students. Having recently completed a ten-year strategic plan in May 2015, Carthage was excited to partner with the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) in the Committing to Equity and Inclusive Excellence: Campus-Based Strategies for Student Success project. The AAC&U project aligned well with several specific college strategic goals, such as increasing student retention and graduation rates; expanding access to several high-impact practices, including undergraduate research, service learning, and internships; supporting diverse student populations; and refining institutional data practices. Organizing the development and implementation of our equity project to complement other initiatives associated with furthering the college’s strategic goals was key to Carthage’s success. Our commitment to supporting students in their process of self-discovery and preparation for the future also aligned well with the project’s goal of encouraging “completion with a purpose” and engaged citizenship, yielding additional synergy.

Shifting the Focus from Diversity to Equity and Inclusion

In efforts to promote intercultural awareness and to make the Carthage community more reflective of society, the college’s recent strategic plans have set goals for increasing the diversity of the student body. Over the past five years, the percentage of students of color on campus has grown from 10 to 17 percent. With the increase in compositional diversity on campus, the focus of the college’s work is shifting from building diversity to promoting inclusion and equitable outcomes. As part of our project, we identified equity gaps in four-year and six-year graduation rates and set a goal of reducing the disparity between the completion rate for black and Hispanic students as compared with white students.

While many of our strategies introduced or strengthened practices to promote success for all students, others focused more narrowly on improving the experiences of students experiencing equity gaps. To set the stage for our work, author and scholar Terrell Strayhorn was invited to speak about fostering students’ sense of belonging at a 2016 meeting for all faculty and staff. First-year advisors and faculty teaching the required first-year seminar were invited to a follow-up workshop with Strayhorn to help them re-envision their roles as “cultural navigators” of the college experience.

Subsequent efforts to infuse equity-mindedness into campus planning and practices have involved both campus leadership and the community. The president’s cabinet participated in a full-day session that utilized the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) to promote individual and group self-analysis of intercultural competence. A director of equity and inclusion was appointed to coordinate campus efforts. An equity and inclusion committee, made up of faculty, staff, and students, was established. The committee formed four sub-groups that focus on access and equity; diversity in the curriculum; campus climate; and student/faculty learning and development. The committee works collaboratively with other campus committees to make recommendations to promote equity and inclusive practices. Specific recommendations are being developed to improve faculty and staff hiring practices, revise general education requirements, and refocus elements of the new student orientation program.

Faculty and Staff Professional Development

To ensure broad participation in and long-term sustainability of our equity efforts, Carthage has initiated numerous opportunities for professional growth and development. Our approach to faculty and staff development has been driven by three guiding principles: (1) faculty and staff share membership in our larger community of practice that serves our students, (2) learning more about practices that facilitate or impede equity is a critical first step for everyone, and (3) ongoing support is necessary to sustain changes in practice.

We opened our fall 2016 Teaching and Learning Conference with a workshop on building communities of practice. This sparked the launching of a learning community of faculty and staff focused on equitable and inclusive classroom practices. Members of this community are pursuing projects to improve their own practices and develop new knowledge to share with the larger community. The work of the learning community complements, and at times informs, workshops on specific teaching practices (e.g., transparency) or course design principles (e.g., clearly stated learning outcomes) known to facilitate success for a greater number of students. The committee emphasizes infusing new practices into current ones to promote both the feasibility and sustainability of faculty and staff development.

To promote greater depth in faculty/staff personal development, the equity and inclusion committee has implemented an equity and inclusion certificate program providing Carthage administrators, faculty, and staff with opportunities to enhance the knowledge, disposition, and skills essential for equity and inclusion work through the completion of a year-long program involving thirty to fifty hours of training and ongoing self-reflection.

Curricular Innovations

As part of our project, Carthage has sought to assess and expand access to and participation in high-impact practices (HIPs) by students experiencing equity gaps. Although our equity goal focused on increasing completion rates, we recognized that early experiences that promote engagement could have the most profound effect on student outcomes. To that end, we have taken advantage of the college’s 4−1−4 academic calendar that requires first-year students to enroll in a January-term class. New HIP-rich courses are being developed to increase exposure to HIPs in the first year. Academic advisors will highlight these course offerings to students during individual advising sessions to promote enrollment by students experiencing equity gaps who might disproportionately benefit from these experiences. Faculty teaching these courses will be asked to build on Strayhorn’s cultural navigation framework, focusing some of their work during the term on helping students develop their own pathways to academic success. Additionally, four experiential learning task forces are developing plans to significantly increase student participation in undergraduate research, service learning, study abroad, and internships.


Carthage College’s intentional focus on identifying and reducing equity gaps in student outcomes has profoundly reshaped our efforts to support students experiencing equity gaps on campus, and it is showing promising signs of early success in improving underrepresented student retention. Three general lessons are worth noting for others who undertake similar efforts. First, our work was most effective where it naturally aligned with our institutional identity, vision, and existing strategic goals. Second, we have found that strategies to broadly engage the campus in collaborative efforts have been most effective. Third, we have benefitted tremendously from the opportunity to engage with our peers from other institutions in this effort, at times seeing new possibilities, and at times gaining new perspective. Opportunities for this type of cross-campus dialogue abound.

Kari Brownholland, Academic Support Specialist; D. Ben DeSmidt, Associate Professor of Classics; Dana Garrigan, Associate Provost for Planning and Assessment and Associate Professor of Biology; Michele Hancock, Director of Equity and Inclusion; Visiting Professor of Education; Aidana Lira, Director of Office of Sponsored Programs;and Dennis Munk, Associate Provost for Faculty Development and Research and Professor of Education, all of Carthage College

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