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Pratt’s diversity, equity and inclusion committee to meet this month in new form, with new focus on community

A student walks into Hudson Hall in 2012
A student walks into Hudson Hall in 2012

The Pratt School of Engineering will host the first meeting later this month for its new Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Community Committee.

The committee includes faculty, staff, and graduate and undergraduate students from each Pratt department and will work to create positive change in the way of diversity, equity, inclusion and community in Pratt.

The committee’s first meeting comes after President Vincent Price laid out a commitment to diversity and equity on campus in a June 17 email to the Duke community.

“Here at Duke we aspire to be agents of progress in advancing racial equity and justice; but it would be more than fair to say that we have often not fully embraced that mission,” Price wrote

Yet although the newly formed committee comes after Price’s remarks and recent unrest over racial injustice, Pratt’s interest in promoting diversity and equity—and the outline of the committee—is nothing new.

According to Nan Jokerst, Pratt associate dean for strategic initiatives and DEIC committee co-chair, the engineering school first established a diversity and inclusion committee in 2014. This was in response to a Duke-wide task force which recommended the formation of a series of new roles in each school, including new directors of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Johnna Frierson, now assistant dean for graduate and postdoctoral diversity and inclusion for the School of Medicine, was the founding director of Pratt’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion and co-chaired Pratt’s first diversity, equity, and inclusion committee along with Claudia Gunsch, Theodore Kennedy professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering and associate vice provost for faculty advancement. Gunsch will also serve on the faculty subcommittee for the DEIC committee beginning this fall.

After Frierson left for the School of Medicine, the DEIC committee was revised to its current structure. Frierson’s previous position as Pratt’s director of diversity, equity, and inclusion is still vacant. 

Jokerst highlighted three major changes that are reflected in the revised committee.

“The balance between the different portions of the community was one thing we changed,” Jokerst said. “Number two, we felt that the members of the committee needed to be much more integrated with the departments themselves… because the departments themselves are where the opportunities are, the programming is, and where some of the challenges are.”

The committee was also expanded to include its current community aspect, with one-fourth of the committee’s work dedicated to building community across Pratt and the rest devoted to diversity, equity and inclusion.

These goals are largely addressed in the DEIC committee’s structure. The committee is composed of an executive committee, four subcommittees and a series of department and unit liaisons.

The executive committee will be co-chaired by Jokerst and Pratt’s new director of diversity, equity, and inclusion—once the position is filled—and will conduct meetings twice monthly, with two co-leads from each subcommittee. Subcommittees include faculty, staff and post-doctoral researchers, graduate students and undergraduates.

“I think in this particular day and age when our university as a whole is striving to be an anti-racist university, this type of work and this space is so important,” Gunsch said.

Ian Williamson, a postdoctoral fellow in the Shen Lab at Duke and a member of the postdoctoral and staff subcommittee, agreed. 

“I’m excited for the opportunity to contribute to the larger Pratt community as a member of this subcommittee and I would encourage other [post-doctoral researchers] to reach out to me about their concerns and anything they would like brought,” Williamson said.

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