Dr. Damira Grady on Turning Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Plans Into Action
For Damira Grady, Ph.D., Vice President of Equity, Inclusion and Community Relations at Madison College, progress starts with an invitation to collaborate and a desire for synergy.
Since joining the college in May, Grady has been intentional with her role. She has spent much of her time listening, asking questions, uncovering the needs of each campus location, and doing a deep dive into the DEI culture and climate of the college.
“We have no shortage of DEI plans,” she says. Grady sees this as a testament to the college’s commitment, but also, the challenge.
“We don’t want plans unknowingly competing against each other or working in isolation. And we can’t be concerned with who is doing it better or who is being recognized. We need synergy.”
She believes the path forward requires aggregating these plans and adopting a collective vision. Simplifying the message is even more crucial.
“We are in this together,” she says. “Let’s look at our plans and identify best practices, opportunities and things that are moving the needle within various departments and programs. Let’s ask ourselves what’s working and why. Let’s quantify our bold statements, create the metrics and interrogate our current processes and systems. Then, together, we can expand upon what’s working and build from there.”
She adds the scalability and sustainability of the college’s DEI efforts will depend on this alignment.
“When we elevate our best practices that serve and retain our most vulnerable students, it better ensures all students receive that high level of focus and attention. We also need to personalize and localize our plan to support the various programs and campus locations. But first we need a centralized vision.”
Champions of Change
For Dr. Grady and her team, a priority has also been to create spaces for learning and conversation. Her team has trained 104 equity coordinators at the college, all working on things like book clubs, discussions, programming, and workshops. The focus is on self-inquiry and removing common barriers and intimidations to make way for deeper questions and learning.
In addition, Dr. Grady has “intentionally tapped”’ several employees to serve as champions of change. Among this group of equity thought leaders is where Dr. Grady is asking questions, identifying recurring issues and challenges while fostering a community for collaboration and ideas. All of this, she says, is about trusting the process and each other.
“We’re working on real challenges, giving honest feedback and noticing where we’re recreating the wheel,” she explains. “We’re also discussing tough but necessary questions, like, how do we see college leaders modeling equity, inclusion, belonging and justice principles? And what does representation look like?”
An Invitation of Discomfort
Dr. Grady acknowledges the idea of doing equity work can feel amorphous and overwhelming.
To start, Dr. Grady invites everyone to de-center themselves and their own experience, and instead, center the work and progress needed. Rather than a band-aid approach or checking the boxes that quantitively tell the story, she is focused on a deeper level of transformation.
It’s a more personal ask of college employees and students that beckons curiosity and appreciative inquiry.
And if it’s done right … there is plenty of discomfort.
“We need to recognize that being uncomfortable is often a very good thing,” she says. “It means you’re seeking opportunities to understand, engage and learn.
When we are growing and deepening our emotional intelligence, it requires self-reflection. The real work is noticing your discomfort and rather than protecting your work, ego, or opinion, you choose to stay in that conversation and listen. You choose to interrogate your bias. You ask yourself; how can I behave in this? How can I relate to the discourse?
When we stay, we learn.”
When asked what belonging looks like for every student, faculty and staff member of the college, Grady points to quantitative metrics, but also a collective feeling and knowing.
“Belonging is the outcome of doing the work,” she says. “It shows up everywhere – infused, integrated and embedded into everything we do.”
Advancing the Work
As Dr. Grady looks ahead to 2023, she’s focused on these three priorities:
Representation in Decision-making
Center underrepresented minorities, specifically African American and Hispanic men, to ensure representation and voice in decision-making processes. Dr. Grady and her team will seek out those voices often structurally excluded and invite them to share their perspectives.
Hiring and Retention Partnership
Partner with human resources to create and host a series of wellness-focused events and gatherings for employees of color. There will be different tracks offered, with some events available to all employees and some dedicated to minoritized employees. The latter will provide room to decompress, share thoughts, check in with each other and focus on personal well-being.
Culture of Collaboration
Continue bringing together equity leaders and thought-partners who will champion DEI efforts and conversation, looking at how we can share best practices and be good stewards of resources.