University of Connecticut – Connecticut, USA

The H. Fred Simons African American Cultural Center was created in 1968 as a result of student activisim and a petition to the provost for a center focused on the experiences and welfare of Black students. In 1972, the first Latinae center opened called La Casa Borinqueña, leading to the Puerto Rican Center opening, which changed its name to the Puerto Rican/Latin American Cultural Center in 1985. Also opening in 1972, the Women’s Center at UConn opened to advocate, educate, and provide support services for women’s equity at UConn and the broader community. In 1987, eight Asian American students boarded a bus to a semi-formal off campus and experienced physical and verbal harassment throughout the evening. After 18 months of struggle, protests, and investigation, there were changes to the Student Code regarding harassment. In 1993, the Asian American Cultural Center was opened at UConn as a result of efforts from the Asian American Students Association and the Asian American Staff Association. In 1997, the Office of the Vice Provost for Multicultural Affairs was created by the Board of Trustees in 1997 and later expanded to include International Affairs (OMIA) in 2002. Shortly after, in 1997, the Rainbow Center opened at UConn which was the result of five years of planning and efforts by numerious groups and individuals. In 2008, OMIA was dismantled, with the cultural centers moving to the Office of Diversity and Equity, which is now known as the Office of Institutional Equity. There are also academic institutes such as the Africana Studies Institute and the Asian and Asian American Studies Institute which were moved to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. In 2011, the cultural centers were moved to Student Affairs, with NACP being created in 2015 as a result of student activism and the Native American and Indigenous Students Association (NAISA), leading us to the most recent change and current iteration of ODI in 2017. The most recent cultural program, MECP, was established in 2020, and in 2022 the position of Associate Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer of UConn Health was created to serve the needs specifically of UConn Health. The cultural centers were created as a result of student, faculty, and staff activism to center the voices, lived experiences, and ways in which the institution has failed historically excluded and racially oppressed (HERO) populations. The various reorganizations and configurations of the unit were initiated by the upper administration, to fit the changing strategic aims of the administration.

In the last two years, various activities with regard to equal access/inclusion/diversity were carried out namely:
• Strategic Planning and Policy Advocacy
• Support and counselling for students and university staff
• Lectures, workshops, seminars for students, faculty and non-teaching staff
• Training courses for peer educators
• Public promotion (e.g. production of media content such as podcasts)
• Fundraising events

The goal was to have spaces that increase the sense of belonging of HERO students on campus, advocate for institutional consideration and inclusion of HERO communities on campus, and educate UConn community members of themes in the experiences of HERO communities to better support them. These pillars are represented in our current framework of our work which frames the work of our office and has three pillars: education, advocacy, and sense of belonging.
While there aren’t specific national laws or policy governing DEIJ offices across the country, the office is still beholden to national laws governing higher education more broadly such as anti-discrimination laws and the affirmative action ruling. However, our DEIJ office is not focused on compliance (as distinct from the Office for Institutional Equity), so we are not enforcing these laws.
The Office for Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) at the University of Connecticut (UConn) currently houses one Central Office unit, five cultural centers (Women’s Center, Rainbow Center, Asian American Cultural Center, African American Cultural Center, and the Puerto Rican and Latin American Cultural Center), and two cultural programs (Native American Cultural Programs and Middle Eastern Cultural Programs). The Office for Diversity and Inclusion as it currently is configured began in 2017 when ODI was created with a direct reporting line to the President’s Office. The cultural centers were moved from Student Affairs To ODI, reporting to an Associate Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer. Dr. Frank Tuitt was hired as Vice President Chief Diversity Officer in 2020 as the head of the Office for Diversity & Inclusion. The Central Office and entire ODI Unit is led by the Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer, who reports to the President of the Unviersity. The VP/CDO also has an Executive Assistant reporting to them. Also reporting to the VP/CDO are the Associate Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer of UConn Health, two Directors of Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives (one focused on students and one focused on faculty and staff), a Senior Faculty Fellow and TRHT Coordinator, and the Five Cultural Center Directors. Under the Director of D&I Initiatives focusing on Faculty and Staff is a shared services team comprised of an Associate Director of Business Operations who oversees an Administrative Support person and a Financial Assistant. The Senior Faculty Fellow also has a Synchrony Faculty Fellow reporting to them, and the Associate Vice President/CDO of UConn Health has a Faculty Fellow reporting to them as well. Each of the Cultural Center Directors have an Assistant Director reporting to them, and the Women’s Center and Asian American cultural Center have an Associate Director as well. Throughout the unit there are Graduate Assistants supporting the work of the Unit.
The main obstacles to ensuring the long-term sustainability of our office are funding and widespread engagement across the university. With the current national climate of attacks on DEIJ, the difficult task of attempting to build buy in for DEIJ work has been significantly increased. Further, with state divestments from public institutions that adds to the complexity of securing funding amidst an already tumultuous environment in which to create buy-in.
We don’t necessarily have a continual formal quantitative or qualitative evaluation process, though each year we are required to pull together an Annual Report describing the unit’s work throughout the year. Recently, we also completed two external evaluations or reviews of the Puerto Rican and Latin American Cultural Center and the African American Cultural Center which made recommendations on how the centers can continue to and improve impact for the students they serve. Further, we had a review recently by an external consultant of the entire unit.

Office for Diversity and Inclusion

Connecticut, United States of America