Alumni Board Prioritizes Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Each board committee will implement its own goals as the group works to support the College’s mission and values.

By: Meghan Kita  Monday, April 11, 2022 10:39 AM

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Photo by Matt Lester

Alumni Board members are meant to be ambassadors for the College—to fellow alumni, prospective students, families and the general public. In order to fulfill that role effectively, says Alumni Board President Carol Papazian ’79, board members need to understand what the institutional priorities are and how they are being implemented on campus. That’s one reason the Alumni Board has sharpened its focus and its operations with an eye toward diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI): What’s a priority for the College is a priority for its stewards.

“The College and our board are on a shared journey,” says Alumni Board Treasurer Bret Kobler ’94, who serves as a liaison to the College for DEI initiatives specific to the board. “It’s important for people who may not have felt—or do not feel—valued, seen or heard to know that they have a place and a voice at Muhlenberg. For the Muhlenberg community to truly be inclusive, we all must do the work necessary to learn more, listen more and act in a way that makes this College’s mission a reality.”

The Alumni Board began focusing its DEI efforts in earnest in 2020 with a special session with Associate Provost for Faculty and Diversity Initiatives Brooke Vick and Associate Dean of Students and Director of Student Diversity Initiatives Robin Riley-Casey. They led the Alumni Board in a community conversation in which members shared their experiences with issues of inclusion as students and alumni. Papazian remembers the session as valuable: “Alumni board members we’ve known for years and newer members really opened up … It was more information about how I can relate to my fellow board members.”

Next, Assistant Vice President for Alumni Affairs and Career Services Natalie Hand ’78 P’07 and Papazian worked with each of the board’s four committees to identify DEI initiatives they could incorporate into their processes.

Since then, each of the four annual Alumni Board meetings has included a DEI-related speaker to bring members up to speed on what’s happening on campus. For example, the most recent speaker was Director of Equity & Title IX Jennifer Storm, and subsequent meetings will include other thought leaders from Muhlenberg and outside organizations.

Each of the committees will set DEI goals and initiatives that are relevant to the committee’s purpose. For example, the Nominations and Governance Committee is working with the Office of Multicultural Life to identify alumni who were in leadership roles in affinity groups to ensure they’re aware when the board is seeking new applicants. That committee also updated the application process so that prospective board members must submit a diversity statement, mirroring what the College asks job applicants to do.

Papazian says that recently, board members looked into what alumni boards at other institutions are doing in terms of DEI in search of ideas or best practices to introduce. They discovered that the College’s efforts were very similar to those at other institutions. However, the education journey uncovered ideas that the board can take into consideration and determine how to introduce to the Muhlenberg community. President Kathleen Harring, who recently facilitated a session at the Council of Independent Colleges Presidents Institute on ways to engage alumni in institutional DEI work, is proud of the leadership the Alumni Board has shown in supporting the College’s initiatives and its diverse student body. 

“We are all leaders in this effort,” Harring says. “Having more people inside and outside the College, particularly in the alumni community, participating in this important work is critical.”

Looking ahead, the Alumni Board plans to continue its DEI-specific programming and continue to work toward further diversifying its membership. As part of the board’s continuing education, members are  beginning outreach to student affinity groups to learn more about their experiences and campus initiatives, Kobler says, as some of the groups did not exist when Alumni Board members were students. When the board makes it a priority to know what is happening (and what still needs to happen) on campus in terms of DEI, it can be a part of the community effort required to make sustained change.

“The College community’s work in advancing inclusion will never be complete,” Papazian says. “We will always keep learning, and our actions will always speak louder than our words.”