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St. Scholastica leads in Inclusive Excellence

Patricia Pratt-Cook - Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President of Human Resources at The College of St. Scholastica

Patricia Pratt-Cook - Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President of Human Resources at The College of St. Scholastica

“Without inclusion, there is no true excellence.”  Representing over 1,300 colleges and universities, including St. Scholastica, the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) released this statement on Aug. 15.  It called upon every college and university to “redouble its efforts to ensure that all students learn with and from diverse peers and graduate ready to lead in a diverse and globally connected world.”

Months before the AAC&U’s challenge, St. Scholastica became only the second private college in Minnesota to create a cabinet level position charged with leading the institution’s inclusion and diversity efforts.  Last May, President Larry Goodwin named Patricia Pratt-Cook as Chief Diversity Officer.  In addition to her role as Vice President of Human Resources, she is now also leading the Office of Inclusive Excellence. 

“Inclusion is mission critical,” Pratt-Cook said. “It’s fundamental to St. Scholastica’s academic excellence and to the career success of our graduates … I’m charged with ensuring that a framework is in place that results in an integrated approach to achieving institutional quality and excellence infused with diversity, equity and inclusion. As a Catholic, Benedictine institution grounded in Catholic social teaching, inclusion is about creating a campus environment in which any individual or group will feel welcomed, respected, supported and valued”.

Creating that atmosphere sounds easy enough. Yet the reality is that higher education was not originally created with the needs of women, people of color, people with varying abilities and other ‘differences that make a difference’ in mind.  That’s where St. Scholastica’s heritage is key.

“The Benedictine Sisters of St. Scholastica are trail-blazers who have been advancing diversity through educational opportunities for women since before women even had the right to vote,” said Pratt-Cook. “We’re honoring our tradition by ensuring that all students from historically marginalized identity groups have access to the quality educational experience we know St. Scholastica delivers.  But accessibility is not enough - students of multiple identity groups must really want to come here, which is why an inclusive climate is so important.”  The Board of Trustees recently echoed that, when a new goal to “Become a more diverse and inclusive community” was recently added as one of the four Strategic Priorities of the College.

Indeed, demographic changes are happening fast.  In 2012, 16 percent of Minnesota high school graduates were students of color, but in just nine years that figure will climb to 23 percent, while the number of white high school graduates will continue to decline indefinitely.  In Duluth and Northern Minnesota, the number of people of color doubled between 2000 and 2010.  By 2018 there will be no majority racial or ethnic group among American schoolchildren. 

This means that recruiting diverse students is not just mission-critical, but imperative to all of St. Scholastica’s programs and campuses, and to sustaining St. Scholastica’s traditional undergraduate program in Duluth.  While Admissions and Diversity staff have been collaborating to build relationships with diverse communities and schools, a group of faculty and staff led by Student Affairs have been quietly working for three years on Multicultural Organization Development (MCOD), an institutional change process that is intended to foster an inclusive learning and living environment for all students, regardless of background. 

Yet inclusion is not just about recruitment or living out the College’s values, Pratt-Cook said. It also means learning to engage a diverse world, she said, which is “an educational learning outcome employers are demanding higher education prove their graduates are capable of.”

She points to multiple studies, including 2013 research by the Business Higher Education Forum, a consortium of Fortune 500 CEO’s and university presidents, which found that employers are observing “deficiencies in the skill sets” of college graduates, citing the need for graduates to “communicate effectively in virtual and multi-cultural teams and engage with colleagues across multiple fields.” 

KPMG Chairman and CEO John Veihmeyer wrote, “Students entering the workforce must have the ability to collaborate with professionals of varying backgrounds, skills, cultures, and perspectives; as well as those who may be based in other countries, which adds a virtual component. The more our institutions of higher learning can prepare students for an extremely collaborative, high-performing workplace where teams are global, virtual, and diverse, the better prepared they will be.”

Fortune 500 employers across the nation are challenging higher education to step up efforts to teach cross-cultural competency skills and educate students in diverse environments.  A 2010 AAC&U study found that when it comes to delivering on that challenge, executives were twice as likely to say that colleges “need to make improvements in their programs” rather than to say “they are doing a good job.” 

Emily Johnson, who serves as Director of Inclusive Excellence under Pratt-Cook, couldn’t agree more.  She describes a recent national conference in which she heard a guest speaker from Ernst & Young.

“His message was, ‘tell your college leadership and faculty that there will be no on-the-job cultural competency training for your graduates’,” said Johnson. “He stressed that if we as a college cannot prove that we’ve taught our graduates cultural competency skills and that they have experience working with diverse people on diverse teams, there is little chance our graduates will find employment in their company.”

In this era of global interconnection and rapid societal and economic change, cultural competency skills “are imperative, not optional,” said Pratt-Cook, “and especially critical for fields like nursing, the health sciences, social work, education … the list goes on, and these are all strong areas for St. Scholastica. Employers want hard, data-driven evidence that our graduates have strong cross-cultural competencies and are fully prepared to dive into a diverse workplace with a diverse team and succeed in a changing world.”

Pratt-Cook is preparing to deliver that data, with a complete audit of all diversity and inclusion-related efforts the College has made to date, including a focus on how St. Scholastica can improve diversity learning outcomes for all students. Everything will be evaluated:  Programs, support services, curriculum, co-curricular/student life programs, marketing, business policies, recruitment, screening and selection, employee professional development and more. 

Another outcome will be a gap analysis with recommendations that will ensure the College can formulate a diversity strategic plan that addresses inclusion issues many years into the future, positioning the College to further advance the MCOD process. 

Pratt-Cook emphasizes that inclusion is not only about race or ethnicity.  “The term ‘diversity’ can be a little restrictive,” she said. “Creating a climate like this – that embraces differences and offers respect in words and actions so that all people can fully participate in all the College’s opportunities – is our ultimate goal.” 

President Goodwin agrees.

“Inclusion truly goes to the very heart of what it means to be a Catholic, Benedictine institution,” he said. “For all of our students, all of our employees, these changes are important.  Creating a Chief Diversity Officer position, the MCOD work, and the new Strategic Priority of diversity and inclusion means we are saying that we are committed to diversity, equity and inclusion being infused throughout the entire College.” 

Pratt-Cook emphasizes that the work cannot be done in silos, and will require support from the entire community.

“To infuse inclusive excellence throughout all aspects of the institution, the effort must be on an institutional level and sustainable. 

“I feel incredibly humbled to have been asked to lead in this capacity to ensure we truly deliver on our promise to prepare students to live and work in a global and diverse world.”