I. Introduction 

This commitment is part of an ongoing effort within the JMU Learning Centers to identify, understand, and respond to the ways that identities affect who we are, what we do, and whom we serve. Learning assistance programs like ours provide customized, supplemental instruction to students striving to achieve their academic goals. The heart of our work is supporting students in vulnerable places, whether they are struggling with their coursework, seeking acceptance into a profession or discipline, or figuring out where they belong in an academic culture that can feel unfamiliar, exclusive, and bewildering.  Further, research continues to show that the stresses associated with being part of a minoritized group can affect the mind and body in ways that negatively impact learning; we must acknowledge and engage with this reality to best support students. The Learning Centers strives to include all learners and to be aware of and respond to the specific needs of different populations. 

Our Commitment to Inclusivity aligns not only with our department’s mission, vision, and values, but also with JMU’s Core Qualities of Access, Inclusion, and Diversity; the Division of Academic Affairs’ value of Equity; and the work of JMU’s Task Force on Racial Equity Center for Multicultural Student Services, Office of Disability Services, and center for Sexual Orientation, Gender, and Identity Expression. We know that our Commitment to Inclusion will necessarily evolve and is by nature incomplete. Still, we share it so that others can join us in this work, hold us accountable, and offer expertise that might help us better enact it. 

II. Our Learning Process

As learning professionals, we recognize education as a lifelong process and have collectively committed to deepening our knowledge to support inclusive teaching.   

We acknowledge the presence of overt identity-based discrimination around us, but we have discovered that bias in learning environments is often covert, taking the form of subtle (sometimes unintentional) slights. For example, these biases might manifest in faculty members perceiving dialects or written accents as errors or ignoring contributions to their fields of scholars, thinkers, and innovators of marginalized identities. Covert biases may also express as excluding or ignoring individuals based on identity, “tokenizing” by asking people to speak as representatives of their identity groups, or invoking stereotypes. We have also learned that biases can be deep-seated and affect operations at all levels in higher education institutions and society at large.  

We acknowledge that these types of biases create additional barriers for members of marginalized communities to succeed in coursework, pursue employment, and feel safety, support, and sense of belonging at JMU and within our centers. Because we care deeply about student learning and success, we commit to awareness and action to mitigate the harmful effects of identity-based discrimination.  

III. Our Commitment 

The Learning Centers pledges to do the following:  

1. Adopt inclusivity as a lens for all our work, rather than relegating it to a sporadic discussion topic. 
2. Provide our peer educators, student and professional staff, and faculty with ongoing inclusivity training and professional development—in particular, developing a deeper shared knowledge of constructs, language, and best practices. 
3. Ensure that peer educators, staff, and faculty receive feedback and recognition for their efforts related to inclusive excellence (e.g., these topics should be addressed in client satisfaction surveys, Faculty Annual Reports, and in peer educator evaluations of faculty). 
4. Regularly review and revise our recruiting and hiring practices, including the ways that meritocracy and affinity bias may limit our hiring pool of faculty, staff, and peer educators. 
5. Regularly revisit departmental decision-making processes to ensure that underrepresented perspectives are heard, considered, and valued. 
6. Review and revise the language of our department’s “inclusive” value, with a focus on making it actionable and justice-oriented 
7. Use our spaces to promote the accomplishments of students, scholars, innovators, experts, authors, and creators from underrepresented populations. 
8. Ensure that all of our peer educators, staff, and faculty, especially those from marginalized groups, have clear-cut avenues for support and processing.  
9. When appropriate, share inclusive reflections, pedagogies, and practices beyond the Learning Centers via resources, conferences, symposia, and workshops. 
10. Seek collaboration and feedback on this work from outside sources, such as the Office of Access and Inclusion and Center for Faculty Innovation. 
11. Reflect on and annually assess our inclusivity efforts, allowing them to evolve with our department and our institutional and cultural context. 

IV. The Process: Living History

For many years, peer educators, student and professional staff, and faculty within the Learning Centers have been engaged in efforts to learn about and reduce the harm caused by identity-based discrimination within our programs, classrooms, and communities. However, those efforts were often limited to particular individuals or programs, sporadic, and disconnected from each other. In the summer of 2020, spurred by contentious national discourse, we initiated a coordinated departmental commitment to inclusion.  

Please consult this webpage for a living history of our inclusivity work including a timeline, a history of our drafts of this statement, and our end-of-year reports assessing our work toward inclusive excellence.


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