LARAMIE — Since the racist Zoom attack in February, the University of Wyoming has been buzzing with conversation about how to improve current methods of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) on campus and curtail racism.
Already, there have been two town hall meetings; a four-part pilot series addressing the differences in male lived experiences in America and in Wyoming; and a “Think & Drink” presentation about “Three Assassinations of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”
But there are those who think UW intentions for effective changes are still too ambiguous.
To remedy this perception, President Ed Seidel spoke forthright about his proposed plans for DEI at the university as well as his intentions as an institutional leader. An interview last Thursday showcased a quiet but capable problem-solver who genuinely agrees there is a need to diversify on campus.
“When I talk about inclusion, I don’t merely mean different ethnic and racial groups, but different income brackets, and geographies — including national and international,” Seidel said.
His experience as a computational scientist and history of global travel taught Seidel that diversity is essential to creating a richer, more innovative environment.
Before his appointment as president, Seidel adopted a four-pillar approach to advancing UW in areas he saw were currently lacking: digital production, entrepreneurship and innovation, inclusivity and interdisciplinary practices.
Ultimately, Seidel said he wants to cultivate an agenda that drives economic development and social well-being across the entire state.
“It’s not just to do good or feel like (I’m) doing something,” he said, but he means to leave the university and its wider community in a better place than when he first started.
Seidel provided a couple of ideas that he and his cabinet members and working committees are considering, the first being the recruitment and retention of diverse students and faculty. Seidel said he wants UW to be seen as an attractive option to all prospective students with diverse backgrounds.
“(It’s) important, I think, for the kind of impacts we have on the state,” he said. Additionally, Seidel wants to find programmatic ways to increase success metrics and wellness for Black, brown, LGBTQ and other marginalized students on campus who tend to not do as well for a variety of reasons.
“Right now, we’re deficient,” Seidel said, both in recruiting students and graduating them.
To combat this, the president implemented a student mentorship program. Known as “Cowboy Coaches,” the program selects students at either the junior or senior level to mentor first-year students on campus. Currently, there are around 12 coaches.
“I’d like to … double that … and make sure the mentors represent the diversity of the first-year students,” the president said.
Likewise, to better support students with diverse backgrounds, Seidel hopes to adopt a “Living, Learning Community” where students with common interests living in the same residence halls can cohort together. The goal is to encourage students — who for example might share a common interest in social justice — to follow that interest throughout their entire college career. It will provide first-year students the opportunity to get involved with other groups or organizations on campus as well as give them the confidence to take courses outside the confines of their disciplinary curriculum.
Seidel has already appointed a committee to develop a Living, Learning Community program, stating these types of programs have the potential to impact the success rates of first-year students.
“We’re a small enough campus that we should be able to support that sort of thing,” he said.
The president of UW also has several ideas, still in the planning stages, to impact the diversification of campus, namely his aspirations to develop partnerships with historically black colleges and/or diverse national societies.
Seidel mentioned the Fisk/ Vanderbilt partnership, which is a prestigious bridge program between HBCU Black Fisk University and Vanderbilt University — a private institution. The partnership is celebrated for producing outstanding Black physicists and astronomers. (HBBU is the initialization for Historically Black Colleges and Universities.) According to the official Fisk University website, they also have dual degree engineering programs with other elite universities in the country, such as Case Western Reserve University.
“When you do something like this, it changes the game because departments would like to get an outstanding scholar,” Seidel said.
He added UW needs to be more aggressive with working with the right kind of diverse societies at the national level so they can better identify legitimate candidates, especially at the staff and faculty level.
Is Seidel willing to risk his position as an institutional leader to pioneer change? This question, and others like it, were asked of Seidel at the very first town hall meeting and again Thursday.
“I want to play the long game in this,” Seidel said, “I don’t want to have knee-jerk initial programs that will potentially set us back.”
He added that in terms of efficacy and public perception, UW has a unique opportunity to lead the rest of the region into a more inclusive era.
As a computational scientist, Seidel’s approach to campus diversity, equity and inclusion disparity seems highly analytical and although he has several ideas of his own, he values the input of the campus community. Seidel is learning as much as he can through town hall meetings, cross communication between student and institutional committees and racial awareness programs to make sustainable decisions.