University launches Equity Action Plan

Dr. Ame Lambert led the EAP Launch on Feb. 21 in RWU’s gym.

By Megan Willgoos l Managing Editor

Roger Williams University launched its first Equity Action Plan (EAP) on Friday, Feb. 21, after nearly two years of work was completed by students and members of the five task forces of the university. These efforts were led by Vice President for Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer Ame Lambert.

The timeline for the EAP is three years, from the calendar year of 2020 to 2022, with hopes of major transformation. The plan involves five pieces to foster diversity and inclusion on campus, also known as the task forces: Student Access, Success and Equity; Employee Access, Success and Equity; Climate and Intergroup Relations; Education, Scholarship and Service; and Leadership and Infrastructure. 

One speaker at the launch event was Dean of RWU School of Law Michael Yelnosky. As a white, male figure of the community, Yelnosky shared insight while engaging with this work.

“All men were not created equal,” Yelnosky said, speaking in regards to the Declaration of Independence. “Because in 1776, blacks were enslaved in the colonies, including in Rhode Island. This basic contradiction is in this country’s DNA.” 

Yelnosky ended by saying the university must acknowledge its shortcomings in order to live up the values of the EAP. This would involve having uncomfortable conversations between students and faculty. Yet, the crowd at the launch event was a majority of board members, rather than professors or students.

“If we want change in Roger and want it to go up, students and faculty need to be in,” said first-year student Jestina Gilbert. “You [board members] approve things, but we [students] are the ones that make change.” 

During the launch, students and employees shared their visions of the future for RWU. One of these employees was Dining Service Crew Team Leader Alice Pasqual.

“I envision that student learning outside the classroom should include the opportunity to taste and enjoy foods from many different cultures and to be able to interact with people from those cultures here on campus,” Pasqual said. “In order for that to be possible, all of us need to commit to this action plan.”

As part of black history month, Cafe Bon Appetit created a special menu for each Tuesday in February, to celebrate Black Heritage through food. Menus were based on inspiration from Tennessee BBQ, Southern, Jazz Club and Mardi Gras.

When Lambert was exploring the open position for chief diversity officer in 2017, she became interested in a vision project that led to the EAP today. The core values she saw in the students, along with their mission to strengthen society, gave her a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

“It was very clear that you know who you are, you know what you value, you know who you want to be and you have decided that this is work you want to do,” Lambert said at the launch. “So work we will and diverse, equitable and inclusive we will become.” 

President Ioannis Miaoulis took part in the conversation as well. Similar to Dr. Lambert, one of the things he saw in the RWU community before becoming president was the hope to move beyond the gaps and make an example of what the university should be. 

“We cannot put this plan on the shelf and leave it on the shelf. We have to make it a living plan that drives all of the decisions we make,” President Miaoulis said. “There will be tension moving forward, we will make mistakes. But as they always say, it’s okay to make mistakes, just don’t make the same mistake twice.” 

RWU alum and third year law student Bre’Anna Mets-Nixon envisions RWU becoming a staple university within black and brown communities in Providence. Mets-Nixon said she asked people at a Boys and Girls Club event if they knew of RWU’s campus in Providence. They replied they did not. 

“We’re not in the places where we actually matter,” Mets-Nixon said. “Roger Williams likes to do a lot of talking. It’s time to start actually doing.”