There’s an interesting backstory as to how the College of Saint Benedict, in partnership with Saint John's University, received a $30,000 grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to become part of its Inclusive Excellence 3 (IE3) Learning Community initiative.
That’s according to Amanda Macht Jantzer, assistant professor of psychology at CSB/SJU who will serve as the grant’s director.
For the IE3 competition, Jantzer said that HHMI intended to award 30 schools $1 million each
“We submitted our grant proposal for the IE3, the third wave of the Inclusive Excellence grants. We submitted a pre-proposal, it was accepted and we advanced to the next round,” Jantzer said. “However, the (COVID-19) pandemic hit, so suddenly HHMI totally put everything on hold for six months, then decided to do something completely different.
“HHMI thought after the killing of George Floyd, the pandemic and with all of the needs facing all of the institutions of higher education, they wanted to do something more general,” Jantzer said. “So, the 108 institutions across the U.S. that had their pre-proposals accepted were all invited to be part of this Inclusive Excellence Learning Community.”
“The world has changed massively since January (2020), when you submitted your pre-proposals, making our model obsolete,” wrote David Asai, senior director for the IE3 team, in a letter to the 108 schools. “The COVID-19 crisis has revealed heretofore hidden or ignored weaknesses in our system, especially with regard to students who come from less privileged backgrounds.
“And, the nationwide reckoning catalyzed by the killing of George Floyd causes all of us to sharpen our focus on racial injustice as we advance diversity and inclusion,” Asai wrote.
The goal of the HMMI Inclusive Excellence initiative is to encourage colleges and universities to build their capacity for inclusion of all students, especially those who have been historically excluded from science. An essential element of an inclusive stance is a commitment to dismantle institutional structural racism.
How will that be done? Those institutions will be separated into “learning communities” or pods of about 15 schools each, during the first phase of the program.
“The idea is we will create a proposal with our learning community to address a bigger issue,” Jantzer said. “For example, one big issue in higher education related to evaluating inclusive teaching and is about biased student surveys. How can we do them better? They tend to be biased against women and faculty of color.”
That proposal will lead to the second phase where HHMI intends to provide funds to support the learning communities, with those awards beginning in fall 2022.
“I think what makes it interesting from other grants is this cross-institutional collaborative which – as far as I know – we haven’t done before,” Jantzer said. “It’s a broad spectrum of schools, including private liberal arts colleges and big state schools.”
In addition to CSB/SJU, Gustavus Adolphus, Minnesota-Morris and Metropolitan State also received the grant in Minnesota.
Four team leaders will be participating in the IE3LC and assisting Jantzer with the grant at CSB/SJU – Deborah Pembleton, associate professor of global business leadership and director of Asian Studies; Madeleine Israelson, assistant professor of education; Mary Stenson, associate professor of exercise science and sport studies; and Kyhl Lyndgaard, visiting assistant professor of environmental studies and director of the Writing Center.
While the goal initially was to provide faculty development and assessment around diversity, inclusion and justice to improve students’ sense of belonging at CSB/SJU, it’s grown to address broader questions as CSB/SJU network with other institutions and collectively reckon with structural racism, Jantzer said.
“We especially want those graduating seniors who have made a call to action this year to see the kind of momentum we have going, and what’s happening before they graduate this semester,” Jantzer said.