Emily Allen Williams | Higher Ed Jobs
This interview with Gwendolyn VanSant initiates an ongoing discussion on the growing emphasis on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) best practices in higher education institutions. VanSant speaks from the vantage of her leadership role with Multicultural BRIDGE. Founded in 2007, BRIDGE (dba Multicultural BRIDGE) is a grassroots organization dedicated to advancing equity and justice by promoting cultural competence, positive psychology, and mutual understanding and acceptance. The organization acts as a catalyst for change through collaboration, education, training, dialogue, fellowship, and advocacy. BRIDGE is a minority- and women-run non-profit certified by the Office of Supplier Diversity of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. BRIDGE connects vulnerable community members with key resources and networks, while also providing education to both local institutions and the community at large. The organization is located in Lee, Massachusetts., a town in the Berkshire Region.
In this interview, we discuss the growing presence of DEI executive-level positions at colleges and universities throughout the United States. This is the first in a three-part interview series.
Emily Allen Williams: Gwendolyn, thank you for speaking with me today about your work as a leading voice and empowerment agent in your work as a trainer and facilitator in diversity leadership, cultural competence, and coalition building for justice and equity. Please share what this work is about and what it involves for you (personally) and organizationally (Multicultural BRIDGE).
Gwendolyn VanSant: With BRIDGE, we wanted to create an organization that would "bridge" the gap in services for underrepresented individuals and communities in The Berkshires and create visibility to their experiences and contributions. We knew this would require training and education, community building, and advocacy work. We provide training in corporate, educational, law enforcement, and public health sectors and offer direct services for community-building programs. BRIDGE's work is rooted in the Berkshires, but we've also worked in Connecticut, Vermont, and New York.
EW: Gwendolyn, please talk a bit about the "rooted" work -- the concentration points, if you will, for BRIDGE.
GV: It's important to me that BRIDGE's work is rooted in a poverty, racial equity, and gender analysis. For example, we have a "Women to Women" program comprised of three parts: a) local women welcome newcomers and offer community support and networking (stabilizing immigrant or otherwise under-represented women); b) women help newcomer women transfer their professional skills into a new U.S. context; or c) women offer their services toward improving the equity and justice lens or professional skills of donors and allies. The "heartbeat" of this program (and of BRIDGE) is our immigrant women's group where they serve as wisdom council.
BRIDGE provides newcomers with all the supports they need to integrate successfully and holistically into our community. We have youth leadership and positive education programs like our "Happiness Toolbox" and "Real Talk" series that teach BRIDGE principles around community, trust, safety, and equity. And we partner with organizations that want to include diverse voices in their own program development.