‘We should create an institution where students don’t have to find their fit, they automatically feel it, the moment they say, “I’m interested in being a Wildcat.”’
Ivy Banks joined the University of Arizona in September 2020, and in May, was appointed the inaugural vice chair of the Association of American Universities Chief Diversity Officers Steering Committee. She points to this work as an opportunity to work toward inclusion.
“After Brown v. Board of Education, we as institutions didn’t prepare for diversity of thought or diverse peoples to enter into our gates,” she says. “Higher education has been reactive instead of proactive as it relates to diversity, equity and inclusion.
Historically, we looked for students to change who they were, in order to be a part of the campus community. Now we are saying, ‘Your diversity of thought is what moves us forward — we want you to be exactly who you are and to bring your true, authentic self to our Wildcat community.’”
This is what is meant by “every Wildcat, every day” — a statement that underpins the approach to inclusive excellence that Banks is leading on campus. “It’s not about satisfying a quota or creating the illusion of inclusion,” she says. To that end, Banks connects with students, faculty and staff regularly. “There are hard conversations we’re having now that we have never had before.”
For example, Banks chairs the University of Arizona Police Advisory Board. “There are opportunities to talk across differences,” she says. “When do we show up with kindness and empathy and counseling, and when do we show up in order to assist with a violent threat?” The conversations are complex, and personal. “My fear, as a mom of three beautiful little Black boys, pushes me to be at the table. And I have an obligation to the students — they are my compass.”
Banks sits between generations of activists. “After the George Floyd incident, my father called me in tears. He said, ‘We fought so you wouldn’t have to go through this.’ But now we have a new generation continuing the work.” She points out similarities between the picket signs of her father’s generation and hashtags, and how the current generation can record and share their experiences directly, instead of being mediated through the nightly news.
“The world doesn’t have to be this way — we’re seeing change that will bring forth a better future.”
Ivy Banks, Associate Vice Provost, Diversity & Inclusion, shares her story and our all-Wildcats approach to inclusion.
Finding a calling
At the core of every incident that changed the trajectory of my life was an experience as a student, and asking myself, “How do I change the path of those who are coming behind me?”
I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio — I am a Buckeye through and through. My path on diversity, equity and inclusion began in high school. We didn’t have a Black history program; I led an initiative where every February, we’d honor Black History Month at a student assembly. I was told that because Black history included slavery, and that was unsavory, students could opt out of the ceremony. And that began my DEI journey.
When I was in law school, I talked to the dean about why students of color were admitted into the law school, but the second-year retention rates were very low. And even if we did persist into the second year, we didn’t see our graduation rates, or even our bar passage rates, as high as other students. After many conversations with the dean, he said, “Why don’t I just hire you?” I began to practice law, and hung up my shingle, but at the same time continued working at the law school to help with DEI efforts.
Every Wildcat, every day
We should create an institution where students don’t have to find their fit, they automatically feel it, the moment they say, “I’m interested in being a Wildcat.” You should see it on our website, you should feel it when you talk to one of our recruiters or to our faculty. We want you to bring your authentic self and your diverse experiences, your diverse way of thought, when we bring you into the Wildcat community.
Hearing and amplifying
My superhero, the person that I look up to most, is Shirley Chisholm. She was the first African American woman to run for president. Her saying was, “If you don’t have a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” I feel this role is the folding chair for the voices that haven’t been at the table. I am blessed to be able to sit with the senior leadership team, a position of privilege. It’s my honor to listen to students, hear how they’re navigating the space and ensure their voices are amplified.
A beautiful symphony
My job is to identify how we will define diversity, equity and inclusion, and harness the power of diversity in every Wildcat, every day. The goal for the diversity strategic plan is an equity scorecard, where we track how many initiatives we have across the institution. For example, if we have 739 initiatives and 70% of them are in programming, that means we have opportunities in research, assessment and policymaking. We’re gathering this information to develop a roadmap for us to move forward, together.
I equate my role to a conductor, because I have the pleasure of being able to conduct the music we create. Working with the flutes until they have the right tune is like working with each college. You start by getting everyone to play the same song. Now what if we add Student Affairs and the Dean of Students Office, look at how amazing that is, we add this part and that part, and instead of us playing individually, we put it all together, and listen to how beautiful it will sound.
• BIPOC — Black, Indigenous and People of Color
• LGBTQIA2P — Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Two-Spirit, Pansexual
• APIDA — Asian Pacific Islander Desi American
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