Dean of the Faculty Prof. Kathy Oleson [psychology], President Audrey Bilger, and Vice President and Dean for Institutional Diversity Phyllis Esposito met to talk in January.
Dean of the Faculty Prof. Kathy Oleson [psychology], President Audrey Bilger, and Vice President and Dean for Institutional Diversity Phyllis Esposito met to talk in January.

Continuing to Walk the Path of Inclusive Excellence at Reed

President Bilger sits down with the Dean of the Faculty Kathy Oleson and Vice President and Dean for Institutional Diversity Phyllis Esposito.

By Sheena McFarland | March 12, 2024

Deep intellectual curiosity. A voracious appetite for learning. Multidimensionality. These are all aspects of the Reed College experience that connect students and alumni across time. And as Reedies continue to change, so too does Reed College. As the college works to be ever more inclusive and welcome students from a variety of backgrounds and lived experiences, Reed continues to evolve to create an experience that is accessible to every student accepted to the school.

To do that, Reed has centered inclusive excellence as the driving force behind its mission.

“Reed College has always been on the leading edge of academic excellence, and inclusive excellence is a defining feature of academic excellence,” said Reed College President Audrey Bilger.

She recently sat down with Phyllis Esposito, vice president and dean for institutional diversity, and Kathy Oleson, dean of the faculty and professor of psychology, to discuss inclusive excellence and its importance at Reed College.

Esposito pointed out that schools typically take one of three approaches to diversity, equity, and inclusion on their campuses: embracing a multicultural perspective, tallying diversity through numbers, or inclusive excellence. Reed has chosen to take the inclusive excellence approach because it is a practice informed by theory that connects to and reflects Reed’s institutional mission.

Education researchers Damon A. Williams, Joseph B. Berger, and Shederick A. McClendon define inclusive excellence as the “strategic pursuit of balanced diversity objectives, repositioning diversity and inclusion as crucial to institutional excellence and quality.” Inclusive excellence has been at the heart of Reed’s strategic planning and academic pursuits for the past several years.

Reed continues to become a more diverse place, opening access to a wider variety of students from more backgrounds than ever before. The richness that comes from such diversity creates community cultural wealth. Bringing in new perspectives, ideas, and attitudes makes for a greater intellectual feast because of the more varied flavors of the ingredients.

“For anyone who might imagine that there’s some tension between rigor and inclusivity and diversity, we know that is not the case,” Bilger said. “In fact, the best pedagogy is inclusive pedagogy. The best campus is an inclusive campus.”

Oleson agreed, pointing to the Center for Teaching and Learning, which was established in 2014 and reports to the Office for Institutional Diversity. That center was purposely designed to support faculty in taking a more inclusive approach to their teaching—in learning new ways to ensure that students are thriving in their classrooms, and that their curricula highlight the breadth of knowledge that exists across cultures.

“Excellence has always been at the core of Reed’s mission,” Oleson said. “And to be truly excellent, we need to be inclusive.”

Excellence can sound like a destination, but it’s actually a process that requires scaffolding to allow everyone to build toward that goal together.

“The reason that this becomes a framework, and not a set of slogans, is because we believe it’s integral to what makes the college amazing, and what will continue to allow the college to thrive in this century,” Bilger said.

Esposito agrees that it is essential to take a scaffolded and evidence-based approach to inclusive excellence for it to continue to be at the heart of the work Reed does. That means being able to adapt to an ever-changing world.

“Context matters, and situation matters. We can be nimble in that we will be present with the students that we receive in the context in which we find ourselves,” Esposito said.

Inclusive excellence serves as a launching point for further work and continuous improvement. It is important to gather both quantitative and qualitative data and then to embrace evidence-based practices.

That can then lead to a continuous improvement process that allows Reed to identify key priorities that can lead the campus community to the creation of specific goals.

The campus community came together to create Reed’s powerful, aspirational diversity and antiracism statements (written in 2009 and 2017, respectively). Continuing to move those statements from an idea to a practical reality is the path Reed has been walking, and the next steps emphasize even more the need for further strategy and actions.

Bilger acknowledged that the statements are something Reed has embraced, and that it is important to continue turning those high-level statements into practical work and to start to measure outcomes. 

“These are more than just words, they’re commitments. And commitments require action and strategy and planning,” Bilger said.

Part of that commitment has come and will come from alumni, who through their advocacy, volunteerism, and engagement with the college can assist in creating a welcoming environment for students.

“Alumni have contributed and will further strengthen our mission of inclusive excellence by believing in the best for this college and believing in the ongoing evolution of Reed in the 21st century to meet the needs of today’s students,” Bilger said.

Tags: Diversity/Equity/Inclusion, Institutional