Emelyn A. dela Peña joined LMU in January 2022 as vice president for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. She brings 26 years of experience in higher education and a focus in justice, equity, diversity and inclusion scholarship and practice. Most recently, she served as associate vice provost for Inclusion, Community, and Integrative Learning at Stanford University, since 2019. She spoke with LMU This Week about her priorities and vision.
LMU This Week: Too often the meanings of diversity, equity, and inclusion are assumed, but not defined; how do you see those qualities and communicate your understanding to the greater community?
Emelyn A. dela Peña: There are so many ways to define diversity, equity, and inclusion. For some they are interchangeable. I find it helpful, therefore, to have a common understanding of how our campus defines these terms. At LMU, as with many other campuses I’ve worked, we often utilize the definitions from the Association of American Colleges and Universities. Diversity is simply valuing difference, whether individual (personality, lived experience, personal identity) or social/group (race/ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, country of origin, and ability, etc.). We become a diverse institution simply because of who shows up on our campus. Inclusion, however, is “the active, intentional, and ongoing engagement with diversity — in people, in the curriculum, in the co-curriculum, and in communities with which individuals might connect.” Equity is about the creation of opportunities for historically underrepresented folks to ensure that each person/group has equal access to the resources needed in order to achieve equitable outcomes. This is not the same as equality, which is about making sure everyone gets the same thing.
My own experience with diversity work on college campuses has shown me that while diversity can be achieved in a variety of ways, justice, equity, and inclusion are much more elusive. It is, therefore, imperative that our diversity and social justice paradigms be action-based and intentional about creating inclusion and achieving equity.
LMUTW: Have you had a chance to assess the DEI climate at LMU? What are your initial impressions?
EDP: I’ve had more of a chance to assess the infrastructure and commitments around DEI. Since I’m working mostly remotely until June, I’ve spent a lot of time on LMU’s websites, reading documents, and meeting with different stakeholders. Everyone I’ve met so far has a deep commitment to DEIJ (I’m adding the J for Justice!) … or as I like to call it — JEDI (because if you’ve ever been on Zoom with me from my home office, you’ll notice the Star Wars posters on my wall). I’ve witnessed people’s personal passions for this work as well as the commitments to embed values and JEDI practices into the fabric of LMU. There have been so many individuals who’ve been eager to welcome me and to offer their support to me as an individual and to my office.
I’ve also assessed the work we’re doing here along the lines of the Anti-Racist Framework developed by the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education and the Inclusive Excellence Framework advanced by the AAC&U. I actually started doing that before I even had my final interview for this position. One of the things that impressed me most about the work here at LMU is that it was intentional about naming anti-racism as a paradigm, but also that this commitment was made a top priority in the university strategic plan. The commitments move beyond surface level and symbolic gestures to identify institutional barriers to equity and structural opportunities to advance anti-racism. I’ve been doing this work for nearly 30 years, and I know how easy it can be to go after “low-hanging fruit” that can be put on a report or displayed on a website. At LMU, however, we’ve acknowledged we have a long way to go and that it’ll take a sustained engagement with JEDI issues to fully become the campus we aspire to be.
With that said, I’m looking forward to finally moving to Los Angeles in June and becoming fully immersed in the life of the campus so I can get a sense of the campus climate and hear the stories of folks who’ve been committed to this work long before I got here.
LMUTW: What successes from your work at Stanford do you see bringing to LMU?
EDP: As I’ve mentioned earlier, it’s easy to become satisfied achieving the low-hanging fruit that brings high visibility to diversity work — the new programs and events, high-profile guest speakers, one-time concessions to demands with no sustained engagement or commitment. However, the things I’ve been most proud of at Stanford have been those things that very few people know about — the kind of work that will never make it onto a website or dashboard and that won’t likely win me any awards.
For example, I revised the way we did salary planning in my unit after I recognized the ways the current model disproportionately disadvantaged BIPOC staff. When I was charged with cutting $1M from my unit’s budget, I did so from an equity lens rather than from an equality lens. In other words, rather than doing a 10 percent across the board cut to all departments in my area, I assessed where the greatest impact would be for minoritized and marginalized students and worked with my managers to cut in areas that would have the least negative effects for the most marginalized students on campus. That meant some departments took more than 10 percent while others only had to cut 2 percent. For two years I was involved with a group comprised of myself and four Black women administrators. We served as advisors to the vice provost for Student Affairs, meeting regularly and advising her on the actions, policies, and practices within Student Affairs that mapped onto the Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture. Our work influenced some key changes in the practices of the division, although most people don’t know such a group exists….
The above comes from an April 12 story on the LMU website.
“Equity is about the creation of opportunities for historically underrepresented folks to ensure that each person/group has equal access to the resources needed in order to achieve equitable outcomes.” The first part of the sentence makes perfect sense: ‘equal access to resources’ is the language of equality. But then there is the intended result: ‘in order to achieve equitable outcomes.’ So the idea of “equity” is defined by “equity,” that is, equitable outcomes. Such a circular definition, so lacking in precision, is most troublesome to this reader. It would seem the idea of equity can be hitched to any wagon the woke intelligentsia desires.
A useless job held by a talentless woman. She’s probably getting paid $175k a year.
Diversity czars are hardly useless. They are deliberately destructive.
A very expensive indoctrination mill
If anyone knows of a chief diversity officer in any institution who is a white (cis)male straight Christian, please say so. I don’t think they exist, which belies the claims about valuing diversity and representation.
“Characterics of White Supremacist culture” More totally ridiculous, self serving, racism. As a white male, we have been kind over the years, to not complain about these attacks. It’s time to end this deliberate and overt racism nd sexism. Instead, for a change, let’s set the same standards on Basketball Millionaire players. It is obvious that most of these players are of a particular race. So Dela Pena, get busy here, and attack and correct these basketball players for their unfair racist, standards. OH, that’s soo different….!! It’s just that they are so much better that they deserve their superior status, etc. etc.
There is a difference between equal opportunity and equal results. America’s culture supports the idea of equal opportunity to get equal or better results. So, if you want people to get equal results or better, we have to ensure that there is equal opportunity. The playing field has to be level. To use the college example, it is important to ensure that all students have a strong background in the arts and sciences. If they don’t, they will get unequal results with their more privileged student friends. So, schools need to be great in all neighborhoods, students have to be well-fed, students need to have books available, live close to a library, have a computer and the broadband needed to use it. If any student doesn’t have these kinds of resources, there is no equal opportunity so hard as they try, they will find it difficult to plan on the some field as their friends.
Bob One is so realistic as usual. Try visiting a public high school class, Bob, and then give another lecture on “leveling the playing field”, and how ALL students should have strong backgrounds in the arts and sciences. Next explain why a large proportion of American High School graduates are deficient in reading and writing. My wife worked with an official who had a master’s degree, but could scarcely write a coherent sentence – a beneficiary of these de facto anti-white male racist university programs.
Bob One, I agree. It takes good planning, hard work, and dedication, to achieve this, led by very talented, well-trained, outstanding Americans in educational leadership positions of excellence. “EIP” is an immature, radical, ignorant, highly-destructive part of the subversive, evil 1960s “hippie” movement, continuing to tear our society to pieces. To make a good society requires lots of hard work, self-sacrifice, responsibility, good values, intelligent thinking, and good discipline. The Jesuits are a complete disgrace, have totally failed all aspects of their original mission for Christ– and should either submit to a total reform– or be thrown out of the Catholic Church.
“it is important to ensure that all students have a strong background in the arts and sciences. If they don’t, they will get unequal results with their more privileged student friends.” Bob One, I am trying to parse this sentence, so tell me if I have it right. Students who have a strong background in arts and sciences are privileged, and those that don’t are not privileged. But what is the meaning of “privileged?” It appears to indicate those who have a good background in the arts and sciences. To be academically sound is to be privileged. Bob One, do I have it right? Strange– I thought academic excellence came from hard work and discipline–which is available to any race at most any income level. And academic deficiency in the arts and sciences is a potential outcome for those of any race and at any income level. Please enlighten, and thanks in advance.
Maybe there are so many racists at LMU that they need a vice president for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Our nation has one. I can’t recall any racists at the Jesuit university I attended, though I’m thinking there probably were some. We had plenty of heretics and sexual perverts, but there was no vice-president or even part-time staff member assigned to address heresy and sexual immorality. In fact, both of those were celebrated.
DEI @LMU and other august Jesuit institutions,
to my mind, evokes the concepts of:
Degeneracy, Evil & Iniquity,
but that’s just me.
LMU has announced that the out and proud lesbian soccer player Abby Wambach will be a commencement speaker. Woke diversity box checked. Catholicism dismissed.
“EDI” is very destructive, with a false, radical agenda. Best to inculcate Judeo-Christian Morality from childhood, for a lifelong practice of “Love thy neighbor…” and “Do unto others…” That takes lots of hard work and consistency! You start by cultivating good, traditional marriages and families, in good communities, encouraging membership in any local church/synagogue (etc.) and fellowship and participation of all in community activities. I grew up long, long ago, in a nice, traditional American community like that, full of many immigrant families with good values! We had a “zero” crime rate, nobody ever locked their doors, kids grew up free to roam the neighborhoods, everyone knew each other, you lived in your neighborhood or town nearly lifelong. Kids were far better educated, and mature, ready to marry — with church weddings– and settle down, by late teens/early 20s. There were people of all faiths and ethnicities. Long, long ago– we had a much better, traditional American society! Many ideas and inventions of the modern era, are extremely destructive!
I support the current thing
Let’s stop the “White Males are racist” propaganda, please. After decades, it is time to end this very tired fable.
This indoctrination began at Bishop Conaty H.S. in LA where Emelyn and I went to school. Nuns and teachers were already progressive.
I just didn’t see it at the time!
They always groom the kids.