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Bentley's diversity initiative runs deep

December 9, 2003

Earl Avery vividly remembers the time he boarded an airplane and mistakenly thought one of the pilots - a woman - was a flight attendant.

"I was so embarrassed," recalled Avery, Bentley's ombudsman, president's assistant for Equal Opportunity and co-manager of Bentley's diversity initiative. "It was a reminder that no matter how immersed I am in it, I don't know everything about diversity. I learn a little more each day."

Indeed, Bentley students, faculty and staff all continue to "learn a little more each day" as the institution continues its commitment to the comprehensive diversity initiative begun in 1993. Today, the initiative reaches into nearly every aspect and office of the Bentley community.

For example, diversity retreats for faculty, staff and student leaders are held regularly. Comprehensive support services focus on race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, religion and disability. Diversity issues are part of the training for all residence hall staff and campus police officers. A plethora of student organizations support and celebrate diversity, from the International Students Association to People Respecting Individuality and Diversity through Education (PRIDE). There is a Gender Issues Council and a Women's Center; a student chapter of the National Association of Black Accountants and an Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting (ALPHA). The annual Rainbow Breakfast celebrates Bentley's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, questioning and queer community (LGBTQQ), and honors faculty, students and staff who have worked to promote the rights and dignity of LGBTQQ on campus.

While this is far from a complete list, it is a thumbnail sketch of the work that continues to evolve from a task force of faculty, staff and consultant that was created by Avery in the early '90s.

"We made a clear decision that we wanted the initiative to be broad-based," said Professor of Management Duncan Spelman, a member of the original task force who is co-manager with Avery of the Bentley diversity initiative. "We didn't want to have a specific blueprint but wanted it to be emergent and be able to respond to hot spots and input from faculty, students and staff."

Three primary goals drive the initiative: to prepare Bentley students to enter a diverse workforce; to draw from a richer pool of applicants for faculty, students and staff; and to use the emerging diversity as a strength and resource rather than a barrier.

Members also wanted something more than "a potpourri of diversity programs," according to Spelman: They wanted it to be an organizational change.

"This kind of change is huge and we continue to have an enormous challenge ahead of us," said Spelman.

Undergraduates get a sense of what Bentley stands for in the "Bentley Beliefs" section of the student handbook that reads, in part, We are all different - rural, urban, gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, from somewhere in the United States or from abroad, of differing religions, philosophies, physical abilities. We seek to understand one another. . .

In First Year Seminar, the impact of cultural and ethnic differences on student life is discussed. By graduation, students must satisfy the Special Focus Course requirement by selecting courses from a list that have diversity, international studies and communications-intensive material as a focus. Somewhere in between, students are likely to find a diversity-related class or two.

For example, Bentley's law department may be one of only a few business school Law departments offering diversity-related legal courses such as Gender and the Law, Race and the Law and "Outsiders" and the Law, according to Professor and Chair Stephen Lichtenstein.

All Law faculty members have attended Bentley's off-site diversity retreat - which Lichtenstein said is a natural extension of what lawyers have sworn to do: uphold the Constitution and defend people's civil rights.

"Further," said Lichtenstein, "the interactive experience of the diversity retreat was personally and professionally rewarding."

All Bentley faculty are strongly encouraged to attend the off-site retreats, according to Avery; about half of the faculty have done so thus far. Faculty who have not participated in retreats are not eligible to be on search committees for new faculty, he said, adding that all Bentley staff are required to attend a retreat within the first year of employment.

The Student Life Research Program of Counseling and Student Development has been collecting data on diversity-related and other student life issues for many years. In a Spring 2003 survey of randomly-selected students, a large majority responded that they learn "some or a lot" from other students who are different from them by race, gender and by nationality, according to Brenda Hawks, associate director of Counseling and Student Development. Slightly more than half said they learn "some or a lot" from students who are different by sexual orientation.

Hawks noted that of the sample, "women are significantly more likely than men to have learned from students who are different from them by race, sexual orientation and by gender. International students are significantly more likely than domestic students to indicate that they have learned from students who are different from them by race, gender and by nationality. And African-American, Latino, Asian and Native American (ALANA) students are significantly more likely than white students to say they have learned from students who are different from them by race and nationality."

Although Bentley's diversity efforts currently focus on race, gender, nationality and sexual orientation, Avery said he envisions a day when those "big issues" will give way to other diversity issues such as class, economic, work style and other differences that are more difficult and less talked about among colleagues than one might think. Currently, workshops under development focus on religion and disability.

"We said clearly from the beginning that if we go up this (diversity) road there is no end date," said Avery. "It's not like you get into diversity work with a ten-year plan and then it ends."

BENTLEY UNIVERSITY is one of the nation’s leading business schools, dedicated to preparing a new kind of business leader – one with the deep technical skills, broad global perspective, and high ethical standards required to make a difference in an ever-changing world. Our rich, diverse arts and sciences program, combined with an advanced business curriculum, prepares informed professionals who make an impact in their chosen fields. Located on a classic New England campus minutes from Boston, Bentley is a dynamic community of leaders, scholars and creative thinkers. The Graduate School emphasizes the impact of technology on business practice, in offerings that include MBA and Master of Science programs, PhD programs in accountancy and in business, and customized executive education programs. The university enrolls approximately 4,100 full-time undergraduate, 140 adult part-time undergraduate, 1,430 graduate, and 43 doctoral students. Bentley is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges; AACSB International – The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business; and the European Quality Improvement System, which benchmarks quality in management and business education. For more information, please visit www.bentley.edu

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