ACPHS In The News

Q&A about DEI

Jonathan Phipps, associate vice president of DEI, in his office
September 7, 2023

Jonathan Phipps joined ACPHS last month in the newly created position of associate vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion. He is charged with developing and implementing a comprehensive DEI plan for the school. In this Q&A, he shares some thoughts about his role on campus.

Let's start with “DEI.” What does that term mean to you?

Jonathan Phipps: DEI is an acronym, obviously, with levels of escalated importance as you go through it. “D” stands for diversity: the presence of people from different backgrounds, identities and abilities. The central question of diversity is, are there people who are like me and different from me both present? Diversity is the bare minimum.

“E” is equity, the ability to provide everybody that's present the same opportunities: you have exactly the same opportunities and possibly the same outcomes regardless of who you are or where you come from. The central question there is, do we all share the same opportunities on a level playing field?

“I”, inclusion, is like the ideal endpoint. That's the ability to have both the D and the E, but also to make all who are present feel as if they belong, are supported, can contribute, are welcomed and are valuable. The question for inclusion is: do I actually belong here?

We've heard about DEI recently in all kinds of contexts around the country, including from educational institutions that are closing DEI offices. Why is this an important time to be opening a DEI office?

The world is changing. There's this huge demographic shift. This change is not just local, it's national and global. We need to prepare our youth and our leaders for that change.

I'm a history guy. That's actually my background – history and political science. In the 19th century, you had a dynamic where roughly 10, 15, maybe 20% of the world's population was included in participatory government or the economy. The rest of the world was pretty marginalized. Well, what's changed since then? In the 20th century, we had two world wars and decolonization. And now that remaining 80%, or whatever the number is, they have a much larger stake and they're more interconnected. We live in a much more globalized world.

So we have interaction with people we never would have had in the 20th century or the 19th century. You need to prepare people for this dynamic. You need to make sure that people are able to interact and collaborate and communicate with each other and be productive in doing so.

How does the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on affirmative action affect your goals? The decision bars institutions of higher education from making admission decisions based on race to achieve diversity.

Race may no longer be a factor in admissions. But we can become extremely attractive to people from diverse backgrounds. Colleges and universities need to do more work to make sure that every student knows they value DEI. It needs to be advertised, it needs to be shown and implemented on a daily basis.

For example, we need to ensure that our international students are able to convey to future students that ACPHS is a very welcoming environment. We need to also ensure that our staff and faculty reflect diversity. People often learn best from people that they can see themselves in. They can relate. And if there's a problem, they can communicate with those staff members freely.

And then we need to work toward the creation of systems to make sure that all within our community feel supported. It’s not just about people of different races, ethnicities, sexual orientations. It's also people of different abilities.

What would you look for in a college yourself?

If I were a student now, one of the first things I would want is to feel safe and included, considering that I am a Black American male and we have had a history of being, well, targeted. Other populations feel the exact same way, whether they be of different faith, a different gender identity, a different national origin.

I have a lot of international flags up in the office because I myself was also an international student. I studied in Australia to get my master's degree. And yes, Australia’s like the 51st American state – it’s a small leap. But still, I learned that there's a huge difference in studying in an environment where you’re unfamiliar with how things are done.

Luckily, I went to a school, the University of Melbourne, that had a good deal of support measures. I want to emulate that. We want to be a school that pumps out global leaders in our field. So we have to be welcoming to global students.

You mentioned the flags. Tell us more about the space you are creating in the office.

I plan to make this office a safe space for everybody from every demographic, so they can come in and be themselves. I want this space to be widely used by student clubs, particularly affinity groups. In the long term, I want this office to also be a place where student advocacy could happen. That's one of my primary things that I'm working on right now -- finding a way to make this a place for our students to advocate for themselves and get positive results.

We have a contemplative room, where people can pray, meditate, do whatever they need to do. They can just come to this place, know that they're going to be accepted, and maybe interact with me.

Can you share any first impressions about ACPHS and DEI?

There is no institution in the United States that does not need some degree of work in this area. We are all born with biases and our institutions reflect those biases over time.

I've already seen a couple of things that I want to address. That includes making sure students know what our policies and procedures are if they have a concern. We need to ensure that a student knows how to go about trying to rectify a situation and reporting a situation. We can't have a campus where a lot of people that may be subject to identity-based harassment don't know how address it.

What’s your long-term vision for DEI at ACPHS?

My hope is that Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences becomes a school that is synonymous with inclusion. I want us to be a destination for students globally because of our reputation.