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UMass Global emphasizes commitment to diversity and personalized learning during J.E.D.I. Days

May 09, 2023

A round gold and black emblem is pictured with the text, "Office of Equity & Inclusion. Justice. Equity. Justice. Inclusion" on the outer rim. On the inside reads the text, "2023 UMass Global J.E.D.I. Days Completion"

Image: Office of Equity and Inclusion

IRVINE, Calif. (May 9, 2023) – Expanding access to online college programs is an important step on the way to enrolling a more diverse student body. Universities traveling along this path must also make an institutional commitment to fostering diversity by being responsive to new student voices and developing more personalized services.

University of Massachusetts Global’s ongoing work to live up to the ideals of Justice, Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion received considerable attention during the recent J.E.D.I. Days event hosted by the Office of Equity and Inclusion. In his opening remarks, Chancellor David Andrews emphasized that delivering a personalized educational experience is becoming even more essential to student success

"The notion that we're going to open the doors to as broad a population as we possibly can, with as many varied backgrounds as we can find, and as many varied pathways as they took to get here, creates a tremendous opportunity for us to add to the diversity of the institution and to focus on those equitable practices that actually allows them to achieve their individual goals," Andrews said.

The United States is home to more than 40 million people who have started college but paused their studies before earning a credential, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Adult-serving universities attempting to help people in this situation achieve their goals will not be able to provide a one-size-fits-all solution.

Instead, universities will need to deliver learning programs that reflect the nation’s diversity while offering services meeting students’ individual needs. Many working students are caring for family members, living with conditions requiring accessibility accommodations, or are reentering civilian life after serving in the military. These realities should not prevent anyone who wants to complete their education from doing so.

OEI developed J.E.D.I. Days so faculty and staff could hear from students living with circumstances like these. Indeed, the two-day event was a day for UMass Global educators and staff to learn from members of the student body.

"This year, we are centering the student voice," said Jalin B. Johnson, vice chancellor of equity and inclusion. "For our purposes, we define the student voice as the values, opinions, beliefs, cultural backgrounds, perspectives, and narratives of individual students, and the voices of those who support our UMass Global student community."

At times, J.E.D.I. Day participants recollected times when they received critical support. Ellie Johnson-Venegas, who recently completed a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, recalled the importance of access to assistive technology.

I’ve really utilized the accessible education program,” Johnson-Venegas said. “I was given speech-to-text programs, programs that can read my textbooks to me if I’m having a hard time holding them up because my hands or wrists are hurting. The teachers in general, I feel like even outside of having those accommodations, I haven’t had one single teacher that was not willing to work with me and it’s just really helped me to be transparent.”

During the same student panel, Lorna De La Cruz, who is pursuing a Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership, advocated for diversifying the curriculum in her program area to reflect a broader array of leaders and leadership styles, including those who serve at the neighborhood level.

“I’m a daughter of immigrants. I was born in California, in the Bay Area, but English was not my first language,” said De La Cruz. So, in terms of diversity and inclusion, yes, I love the current topics that we learn, but let’s include more; I know we’ve used the word ’variety,’ but more variety, more flavor.”

Other J.E.D.I. Days segments centered on the university's Pregnant and Parenting Scholars Organization, military and veterans services, and the preferred and chosen name policy, which grants students the right to be addressed by a name other than their official legal name from the moment apply to the university.

During one of the final J.E.D.I. Days segments, Johnson reaffirmed OEI’s dedication to diversity and access.

“The Office of Equity and Inclusion, or as we call ourselves, the OEI, advocates for justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion by providing programs, services, and support that lead to access and success for our students, our staff, and our faculty,” Johnson said. “We do this by closing opportunity gaps for the many minoritized groups that are part of our community. We aim to fulfill our purpose daily through collaboration with our university community on policies and procedures, practices, and norms.”

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