What are the perks of a college-educated workforce? State-of-the-art training, up-to-date knowledge, and cutting-edge skills are all qualities that make university graduates an asset to any organization, institute, or company.
But college graduates don’t only offer corporations career-ready skills. As students complete their studies, they flex and refine soft skills such as empathy and communication. For higher education institutes, this creates a unique opportunity to have a holistic impact on the global workforce — helping establish future employees not only as sought-after professionals but as well-rounded individuals.
In our increasingly diverse global market, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) has become an initiative within many companies. Though DEIB looks different in every organization, it occupies a critical role in higher education. Such is the case at Goodwin, where DEIB is stretching its efforts beyond the University’s walls.
The Journey of DEIB at Goodwin
Since its inception, the University has effectively served a diverse community of non-traditional learners — helping them find an educational home that accommodates their professional and personal needs. Goodwin’s inclusive ideals extend to staff and faculty, too — fostering a workplace that celebrates the unique identities and cultures represented within the Goodwin family.
Yet DEIB didn’t become an official Goodwin hallmark overnight. Thirteen years of effort and programming brought the initiative to fruition in January 2023. For Nicole Miller, Associate Dean of DEIB, this marked a long-awaited step in a decade-spanning career at Goodwin. Having first joined the University as a temporary executive assistant in late 2010, Miller continuously grew and redefined her professional identity. Throughout her 12 years in the Goodwin community, she worked in roles ranging from student engagement director to adjunct professor — all while developing the knowledge and versatile skills that prepared her for her role as Associate Dean of DEIB.
Miller believes her professional journey is a testament to the growth-mindset that defines Goodwin University. “It’s a fluid place where everyone can be genuine,” she reflects. “Goodwin presents opportunities to leave your mark on a growing school and help establish its culture.”
Commending the work of University leadership, Miller notes the substantial efforts that were made to make DEIB a Goodwin staple. She highlights how Jean White, Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Community Culture, committed significant time and energy to laying the groundwork for DEIB to be successfully embraced. “Jean White prepared the Cabinet to think more about intentional, deliberate, and formal DEIB practices,” Miller shares. “She spearheaded the steering committee towards DEIB and assessed interdepartmental needs.”
Amidst the continuing efforts of White, Miller, and other Goodwin leaders, the stakes rose in late May of 2020 when George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Footage and reports of the incident quickly gained traction in the media — inspiring protests, debates, and social justice movements in cities ranging from Hartford, Connecticut, to London, England.
In the wake of this tragedy, many institutions began strategizing more effective policies to promote equity and inclusion. At Goodwin University, where these efforts had long been underway, DEIB began moving forward with newfound momentum. “George Floyd’s death marked a moment of change for us,” Miller recounts. “It generated steam. We began hosting even more workshops, seminars, and training focused on these issues. We also began bridging efforts with other departments.”
Understanding perspective at Goodwin University
Floyd’s death wasn’t the only factor fueling Goodwin’s drive to formalize DEIB. A year of historic instability, 2020 also made DEIB a necessary tool to address the social fallout of the pandemic. With personal and social skills strained by isolation, the need to build bridges became ever more critical. “Relationship-building and social skills suffered. Some of those skills need to be reintroduced,” Miller describes. “People don’t have the same robe of anonymity now. Society is changing. Because society is changing and it’s higher ed’s responsibility to prepare the workforce, it’s become even more critical to understand perspective.”
Intent, impact, and integrity
When it comes to establishing inclusive workplaces, understanding others’ viewpoints is invaluable. Yet countless leadership teams lack the perspective necessary to bring DEIB values beyond the performative. “While some leaders mean well and try to make a positive difference, making decisions without incorporating other viewpoints can unintentionally create a negative impact,” Miller explains.
When the students of today adopt an inclusive outlook, they build a more equitable future for our country. Our students are tomorrow’s workers, leaders, and changemakers — developing the soft skills necessary to build bridges, address injustices, and foster belonging in professional settings.
From self-reflection to self-improvement
Miller notes that DEIB values are best upheld by those who adopt a constructive mindset. “Part of integrity is taking feedback, understanding it, and not overapplying your own ideas about the situation,” she suggests. “Don’t take the feedback as a personal offense or a critique that you’re a ‘bad person.’ Think of it as an opportunity to improve.”
Further emphasizing the importance of responsive self-improvement, Miller discourages shying from difficult discussions. “There needs to be constant self-reflection, which requires open conversations and accountability. Even if these conversations are unpleasant, they’re important.”
At Goodwin University, honest conversation is indispensable to making DEIB’s mission effective. Communication helps us realize DEIB’s full potential — facilitating mutual understanding, building bridges, and establishing community ties.
Goodwin University proudly embraces the diverse identities represented within our school community. Learn more about DEIB at Goodwin!
A deeper sense of identity
We all have the potential to make meaningful connections — especially when we recognize and appreciate the true breadth and depth of diversity. “There is diversity deeper than the physical aspects people often limit it to,” she offers.
In a much more thorough sense, diversity encompasses how our personal and cultural identities vary. The scope of these differences is vast, with your features and traits combining to form you — a unique individual with your own identity. Many of our most distinct traits aren’t even apparent to the naked eye — attributes ranging from your dominant hand to your guilty pleasure song all play roles in defining who you are.
Building relationships, creating belonging
Your countless qualities add up to an incredible asset: the potential to create a genuine connection with nearly everyone. In Miller’s view, this is one of the most critical lessons DEIB can impart to Goodwin’s students and alumni. “Making, building, and maintaining relationships are essential.” She continues, “Through the lens of DEIB, we can prepare individuals with the language and relationship-building skills necessary to show and reciprocate respect. Without respect, you can’t create or find belonging.”
In our fast-paced global society, it can be easy to forget how essential a sense of belonging is. Feeling valued by a group or community is integral to our mental health — lending to coping skills and self-confidence while alleviating loneliness. In contrast, those who feel undervalued are more prone to depression, self-isolation, and other mental health concerns.
In a professional setting, feelings of isolation can significantly impact employees’ morale. “Companies cannot retain employees who feel ostracized,” Miller outlines. “An integral part of establishing belonging is to create a welcoming and respectful environment for all.” She continues, “People don’t need to be best friends outside of school or work, but the ability to show respect, work productively, and maintain relationships is essential.”
Relationships aren’t only bonds between people — they can also be connections shared by communities. Since 2021, Goodwin and University of Bridgeport have formed a united family. Amongst the countless benefits of our unity is the advancement of DEIB, whose mission has only been strengthened by our collaboration.
Miller has been collaborating with the UB community to cultivate a cooperative culture of belonging. The universities’ dual effort has been branded Living #GUBuntu. Adapted from South African philosophy, Ubuntu means I am because we are. “It relates to how humanity is interconnected and how we are products of our communities,” she delineates.
Although UB and Goodwin are distinct universities, we find ourselves united on common ground. Both universities dedicate themselves to educational equity and student success — embracing learners with diverse identities, backgrounds, and education levels. Like Goodwin, UB also serves as an institutional leader in a culturally rich community; East Hartford and Bridgeport are two of the most diverse towns in the state of Connecticut. Aside from providing community services such as dental and healthcare clinics, both schools influence the landscape of the local workforce — creating the next generation of culturally competent, technically skilled, and socially aware employees.
By recognizing our shared responsibility for our students and communities, we can make a meaningful impact on higher education in Connecticut. Miller is already making Living #GUBuntu a bridge between both schools — planning activities such as an employee Paint and Sip and a retail bazaar highlighting local Connecticut businesses. Our universities also plan to unite for a Day of Reflection on June 18, 2024 — collaborating to honor the landmark celebration of Juneteenth.
Taking root in change
Through the joint efforts of UB and Goodwin, DEIB will be breaking new ground this spring — planting oak trees on both university campuses. Solid and serene, oak trees survive for hundreds of years in virtually every part of the world — resiliently defying unexpected conditions as they grow and prosper.
These trees weren’t chosen for their durability alone. Taking root in ancient meaning, the historical and spiritual significance of the oak tree branches across cultures and centuries. For many, these versatile trees are symbols of clarity, solidarity, consistency, and resilience. Each meaning stems from an underlying sentiment: strength, knowledge, and unity are as fundamental to our communities as the soil itself.
Embracing everyone through DEIB
Fostering values, norms, traditions, and customs that uphold the principles of DEIB remains an ongoing and collaborative effort. Alongside Miller, Jean White continues to play an essential role in influencing the journey of DEIB at Goodwin — advocating for practices that are simultaneously intentional and seamless.
While Millerand White may find this journey to present some challenges, they remain positive about the road ahead. Miller believes that with the right effort and resilience, both universities can exemplify DEIB’s values — serving to foster belonging not only in our schools or workforce but in our communities at large. “It’s not a single-step process,” she reflects. “But, together, we can take this journey and collaborate in a way that embraces everyone.”
At Goodwin, our faculty, staff, and students form a diverse community of learners, instructors, and supporters. Your personal and professional success is our priority. Learn more about beginning your Goodwin journey today!