The Office of Student Involvement (OSI) has welcomed a new program known as RISE, which stands for Resources Igniting Student Empowerment, to further diversity, equity and inclusion across campus. The initiative encourages student leaders of clubs and organizations at the University to take steps toward improving the culture and atmosphere on campus.
The initiative was developed prior to students being sent home in the Spring 2020 semester, in response to student activism pushing for more diverse and inclusive programs. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement that gained national attention in the past year, University students put pressure on administration to make changes to improve inclusivity.
Due to the pandemic, the program was not able to be introduced at its full potential. However, OSI wanted to ensure resources and training were still made available to student organizations. JJ Brown, Director of Student Involvement, explained that the initiative works beyond just campus life and aims to impact life experience of students at the University. Therefore, the need for training was prioritized to be accessible throughout the entire academic year. The initiative will be fully introduced at the start of the Fall 2021 semester.
Right now, the program aims to educate club and organization leaders, with the motivation that the leaders will bring their knowledge to club members in order to reflect and collaborate. Expectations for each student organization include attending two required sessions per semester for a total of four sessions in the academic year. Additionally, a student from each organization and club has to attend two elective sessions during the academic year. Student leaders can choose to go to more sessions if they desire to. The goal of the training and resources is to find ways to make clubs “anti-racist based.” Sessions, which are posted on OSI’s website, include topics such as leadership skills, civil engagement efforts, CliftonStrengths, interviewing processes, and so on. More than 170 students have attended sessions since the initiative began.
“Over the summer, we thought it was really important that the first session had to do with addressing the student groups and organizations and making them as anti-racist as possible, and as inclusive as possible” Brown said. “We want to be able to recognize how these organizations play into the culture and how they can change the space.”
In addition to the sessions hosted by OSI, student leaders are encouraged to create action plans with their group members. These plans are then submitted to OSI as part of the Just Villanova program. The plans aim to create initiatives specific to each club or organization and can be used to make tangible change. Ideas such as eliminating interviews for membership or expanding meeting times to include more members have been common ideas within action plans. The way in which members are welcomed into clubs is also an important topic looking to be addressed. Brown voiced that the RISE initiative wants clubs to communicate more with new members in order to build upon common interests and create more collaboration.
Brown shared that he hopes the RISE initiative acts as a light bulb for students. He explained that the issue may be that students have failed to realize something they were doing needed to be changed or that their club or organization was failing to do something to promote inclusivity.
In the future, the program will overall work to collaborate with students in order to incorporate their ideas and desires into the initiatives. OSI wishes for clubs to collaborate with other student organizations to expand inclusivity across campus. “There is a need for groups to collaborate, especially underrepresented groups,” Eloise Berry, PhD, Director of Intercultural Affairs said. “We want them to collaborate and support each other.”
The RISE initiative aims to bond all students on campus, especially having better collaboration efforts between larger and smaller clubs. Sessions can act as the meeting ground for various groups to get to know one another and find common goals and passions.
OSI encourages any student with ideas to share them in order to create a more diverse and inclusive campus.