Higher-Ed Talks: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion on College Campuses

2020 brought to light many of the challenges and issues that adversely affect low-income and underrepresented students.  CORT has successfully partnered with colleges and universities across the nation to provide furnished housing, both temporary and permanent, for housing insecure groups both on and off-campus.  High-quality, affordable housing in college adjacent neighborhoods can go beyond providing basic shelter, stability, and well-being.  Having a place to call “home” with reliable access to technology can be a platform for academic success, increased graduation rates, and a successful transition into the workforce.

I was motivated to dig in a bit further and explore campus initiatives in the areas of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion- how are students recruited, how will admissions be handled as we move away from standardized testing, and are their support systems in place to encourage success once admitted.  San Diego State University has a racially and culturally diverse student population and within the Division of Student Affairs and Campus Diversity, there is a Center for Educational Partnerships, Outreach, and Success directed by Dr. Mary Taylor.

Dr. Taylor is a first-generation college graduate who received her Bachelor’s degree from UCSD, her Master’s degree in Postsecondary Leadership from SDSU, her Certificate in college Admission counseling from UCLA, and her Doctorate in Education from the UCSD/CSUSM Joint Doctoral Program.  Since her research interests include educational equity and access for underrepresented students, Black student success in higher education, college access, success, and completion, I realized she would be the perfect person to interview on this subject.

TN: Dr. Taylor,  tell me about your background and how you became involved in Higher Education? 

MT: I’ve always had an affinity for advocacy for those who need it the most.  As a new college graduate in the early 90s, there weren’t a wealth of jobs to chose from so I started at the Career Center at UCSD and eventually became the Director of the TRIO program created by an education grant which serves low income, first-generation students under the umbrella of programs such as Upward Bound and Talent Search.  After starting a family, I started as the Interim Assistant Dean of Eleanor Roosevelt College.  I really saw many students who chose UCSD when it may not have been the right fit for them.  They didn’t know how to be consumers of higher education. This sparked my interest in college admissions counseling so after receiving my certificate from UCLA, I worked individually, counseling college-bound students.  I wanted to volunteer my time at a non-profit organization, Reality Changers but they hired me as an Instructor and then as the Academy Director.  The goal was to prepare youth to become first-generation college graduates and agents of change within their communities. I started at SDSU in 2018 and am the current Executive Director of the Center for Educational Partnerships, Outreach and Success. 

TN: San Diego State’s President De La Torre began a multi-point program upon her arrival in 2018 to advance social justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI).  What are some of the initiatives you have seen implemented as a result of the Plan?

MT: While there are a number of important initiatives in progress at SDSU, the changes being made in how we recruit, retain, and promote staff and faculty as well as how we teach and learn. The recruitment of faculty and staff who are reflective of the diverse communities served by SDSU will be key to the university’s successful retention and graduation of all SDSU students. This work will reach beyond recruitment to enhance our understanding of our evaluation and tenure granting policies and procedures as well.

Tasking departments and units with reviewing existing coursework and developing new curricula to advance racial and social justice, embedding Anti-Racism across the new curriculum is another measure that will ensure that students, staff, and faculty alike will enjoy an inclusive working and learning environment.

TN: COVID had a disproportionate impact on the disenfranchised. How does this play out at SDSU especially with regard to housing and technology insecure students?

MT: Within the Division of Student Affairs and Campus Diversity, the Department of Well-being and Health Promotion has an Economic Crisis Response Team (ECRT). This team collaborates with multiple campus and community partners to provide support for students with a variety of needs and concerns. Through this department, students have received help with food and housing insecurity, technology issues, and a host of other needs. I have my own personal story about working with this team to provide a refrigerator for a student and her family just as the COVID stay-at-home order was issued. I have witnessed remarkable and extraordinary efforts to support those students with the greatest need.

TN: Do you think the elimination of the ACT and SAT tests as requirements for admission in the University of California system will have any impact on recruiting and admissions?  What, if any concerns do you have as to how academic achievement will be consistently measured and how this might affect the transparency of an already competitive admissions landscape?

MT: COVID has forced Education into a number of behaviors and decisions that have stretched our ability to be adaptable.  We’re looking at the process of how we admit students, especially local students.  Are we doing honor to their profiles and backgrounds with an EI – eligibility index that combines SAT/ACT scores + GPA?

We’re starting to ask questions:

  •  What type of high school did they come from?
  • Did they come from a high school where most students are on free or reduced lunch?
  • Have they participated in a community-based organization focused on college preparation and readiness?
  • Are they employed or helping to support their families?
  • We’re trying to find the right balance between all these other factors that absolutely should have an impact and should be known about a student as they’re being considered for admission. We should be admitting those students that are most likely to be successful and more importantly, to consider what supports we have in place for those who need more than others.  Where will they land when they get here?  Where is the place that’s going to surround them, to recognize their needs and be able to provide the support?   Where is the place on your campus that is ready to receive them and make sure they’re connected with the right resources?

I’m hopeful that we’re looking more closely at the courses students take.  The EAP, Early Assessment Program helps 11th graders understand whether they’re ready for the CSU system.  And, if not they still have time as 11th graders to change some of the courses they’re taking especially in English and Math.

Again, Admissions require balance.  We can’t just open the floodgates and everybody’s in whether they are prepared or not.  We’re not limiting access.  We’re making sure that we’re preventing a group of students who aren’t ready but get admitted and then, drop out or just don’t graduate.

TN: Improving college access and achieving a higher degree of educational equity will require additional resources or the re-prioritization of resources.  You direct the SDSU Center for Educational Partnerships, Outreach, and Success which essentially has two branches and an administrative middle.  I see it as a tree with the left branch focused on education and outreach, the right branch on student success, and the administrative middle as the trunk that supports the branches of the tree.  Can you tell me more about the Center?

MT: Using that analogy, Education and Outreach includes community partnerships, campus and school visits,

Scholarship groups from under-served communities such as the Price Scholars Mentees and The Compact for Success, guaranteeing admission to Sweetwater District students if certain criteria are met.  The Student Success branch of the tree includes mentoring, counseling, wellness, commuter student support, transition programs, Economic Crisis Support Team (ECRT), and training and professional development.  The trunk of the tree includes our campus partners- Admissions and Enrollment, EOP, Financial Aid, and Student Organizations.  It is the mission of every CSU campus to support education and enhance the local community.  We take a holistic view of the student from admissions, academic success, and the road to professional development upon graduation.

TN: Thank you, Dr. Taylor, for sharing your thoughts about some of the issues facing universities seeking to expand their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion policies, their support strategies, and their academic curriculum.  Do you have any closing thoughts?

MT: I am proud of the fact that people are listening to what I have to say and how I use my voice for advocacy. I have a seat at the table.  There are similar programs at other schools but they’re not packaged the same way.  Achieving Admissions equity is important but the second part, providing support for the incoming student is the key to success.  How do we support these students without judging or denigrating any of the traditions or cultural norms of their families? It takes reflection on our part so that we will have the capacity to help.

About Dr.Taylor

Dr. Taylor is the Director of the San Diego State University Center for Educational Partnerships, Outreach and Success. Her research interests include educational equity and access for underrepresented students, Black student success in higher education, college access, success, and completion, and non-profit collaboration with educational institutions.

About Teri

Teri Nelson is the National Sales Manager for Education and Military Sales at CORT. She is responsible for elevating the CORT brand on college campuses and positioning CORT as an invaluable resource to our next generation of consumers. Follow Teri on LinkedIn for more information on her work.