- by Mount Saint Mary College
Jenifer Lee-Gonyea in front of the Dominican Center

Jenifer Lee-Gonyea is the Mount's first Assistant Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and Chief Diversity Officer.

Lee-Gonyea heads up diversity, equity, and inclusion at MSMC

This summer, longtime Criminology professor Jenifer Lee-Gonyea was named assistant vice president of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), as well as Chief Diversity Officer at the Mount. 

The college is excited to have Lee-Gonyea in these roles, where she will be working to meet important DEI objectives of the Mount’s Strategic Plan. She will also be responsible for deepening the college’s ongoing efforts to create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive community.

Below, Lee-Gonyea discusses DEI and its components, as well as how we can apply these concepts at the Mount to make it a better place for everyone.

Why is diversity, equity, and inclusion important?

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are, in my view, ways to think about how our society can be the best version of itself. Diversity, equity, and inclusion is sometimes accompanied by the additional concepts of belonging and justice. Each of these are the external, outward acknowledgment that these values are important and an essential starting point for what we want in a society. These are an acknowledgement that we owe our members – in a society, in an organization, in an institution – the respect of being seen as a full person. 

To make things right, we must first acknowledge where we have fallen short and where we continue to fall short. If we truly want to move closer to what is right, just, and best for society, we have to do the work that is demanded by DEI and be honest about the results.

The benefits of DEI for society are far-ranging. It allows members of society to be fully engaged, it allows other members of society to get a fuller understanding of some of the challenges that exist, it can allow barriers to come down, and it allows people to perhaps see some of their own blind spots. Equity has real-life implications that extend beyond the individual. Providing equity extends beyond pay equity; it’s equity in how groups are represented in all levels of society. 

Why did you want to take on these new roles at the Mount?

Over the past few years, my interest in matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education has really increased. These had always been a part of the Criminology courses I taught, because you really can’t teach Criminology without engaging in matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion. As the campus created different avenues of discussing these issues, and I became involved in those efforts, I really wanted to see what could happen on a campus-wide level if given the opportunity. I wanted to continue discussions and work around DEI on the campus, but I wanted to be able to do it full-time with the goal of implementing new policies and programs to meet the needs of the campus, its students, faculty, and staff.

What are the Mount’s DEI goals?

The strategic plan provides a guide for DEI on campus. For example, one objective focuses on creating DEI opportunities for students in our curriculum, co-curricular, and extracurricular activities. Another focuses on creating DEI learning opportunities and professional development for faculty, administrators, and staff. The strategic plan also addresses the need to recruit and retain diverse students, faculty, and staff. 

In the short-term, our DEI goals will focus on gaining insight and information on where MSMC is currently on some DEI markers (student composition, faculty and staff composition, completion rates, campus climate) as well as creating a baseline for DEI in the curriculum. In addition, developing and conducting some DEI professional development for faculty and staff. Finally, it’s important to speak with academic and non-academic units on campus about their experiences with issues related to DEI and any possible recommendations.

There are goals that will take longer to fully understand and then start to address on an institutional level. Those include matters of recruitment and retention for students, faculty, and staff, as well as curriculum and a response plan for DEI-related harms.

"If we truly want to move closer to what is right, just, and best for society, we have to do the work that is demanded by DEI and be honest about the results.”

What programs, policies, and practices do you see the Mount implementing?

Programs that focus on the continuous professional development of faculty (full-time and part-time) related to inclusive teaching/pedagogy. In addition, extending these professional development programs to staff and administration.

Policies being implemented to address DEI-related harm between students and staff, grounded in the concepts of restorative justice.

Programs focused on the regular review of curricula to ensure course and program offerings are diverse and inclusive.

Practices that increase the recruitment of diverse students, faculty, and staff.

Programs that increase the retention of diverse students, faculty, and staff.

Practices that ensure the appropriate resources are available for faculty to teach inclusively. 

What can students, faculty, and staff do to help the college reach our DEI goals?

Participation by all stakeholders is key to assisting the college in reaching these goals. This means participation in conversations, trainings, workshops, and small and large meetings. I don’t think these goals can be achieved without buy-in from all groups on campus. Honestly, it’s about people showing up and participating – even when they feel uncomfortable or unsure. 

How has your research focus on restorative justice prepared you for these new roles?

Restorative justice focuses on relationships and acts of harm that damage those relationships. It also requires the involvement of all major stakeholders to lead to the repair of relationships and hopefully long-term healing. 

Restorative justice has taught me to look at the people who are involved, not just the consequences of actions. It is about accountability when a wrong or harm is committed but not about blame. The goal is to find ways to address the harm, so those [who were] harmed feel heard, and those who caused the harm find their way back into their community. Making this work about the people is key to developing a supportive and welcoming environment for all people who are part of the MSMC community.

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