Activities to Activism: New Diversity & Inclusion Website for BU and Boston
Guides to the campus and city, videos featuring Black faculty, and more aim to make the University and the city more welcoming
“I transitioned genders when I was a faculty member in Kansas, and that was a hard process,” Alley Stoughton tells an interviewer on camera. “I felt somewhat isolated there.…And since coming to BU, I feel so much more connected.”
Stoughton, a College of Arts & Sciences research professor of computer science, is among the LGBTQIA faculty in a video featured on the redesigned year-and-a-half-in-the-making website of Boston University’s Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) office. The videos on the site’s Voices of BU/Thriving in Boston section are all part of the realization of Crystal Williams’ dream to make BU and Boston more welcoming to Terriers—those already here, as well as prospective students, faculty, and staff.
“Boston University has never had a robust site that aggregates most of the diversity, equity, and inclusion work being done on the campus,” says Williams, who was promoted to the inaugural position of vice president and associate provost for community and inclusion over the summer (an acclaimed poet, Williams is also a CAS professor of English). “Our goal was to provide a resource and a central hub for prospective and current community members.”
Other news-you-can-use features on the site include a Curated, Crowdsourced, Cultural Guide to Boston, which proves, among other things, that you can’t accuse D&I of rejecting advice. About 45,000 BU students and employees were consulted in assembling this catalog of 250-and-growing items from ethnic restaurants, houses of worship, and cultural outlets to activist groups confronting racism and LGBTQIA prejudice. Oh, and landmarks like the Arnold Arboretum.
Williams says that in addition to stressing Boston’s evolution from its racially troubled past, the list was a “neat community-centric project,” and she hopes to add to it monthly.
The website has primers on Boston’s neighborhoods and a “data dashboard” of statistics about the University’s student body and faculty (race, financial aid, number of international students, etc.). It also archives all of the forums from the University’s Day of Collective Engagement: Racism and Antiracism, Our Realities and Our Roles in June, when the University suspended all business for a community-wide online discussion of racism and what can be done about it following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Williams, who became D&I’s inaugural leader in 2017, conceived both the Cultural Guide and Voices of BU/Thriving in Boston with a specific goal in mind. “It seemed clear to me—from speaking with a broad range of people, including faculty and staff—that Boston’s long history with troubled racial relations and racist incidents continues to be an issue in our recruitment efforts,” she says.
“One way of addressing the question, ‘Can I have a rich, fulfilling life in Boston?’ is to highlight those who are having such a life and to give people more information about the city and its wonderful and diverse array of resources.”
The Voices of BU/Thriving in Boston page includes a video series featuring Black BU faculty, in addition to one by the University’s LGBTQIA community. The section aims to share success stories, especially with prospective Terriers and staff, and Williams hopes to grow the video library to a total of 20.
“The narrative that I’ve tried to be careful about,” Williams says, “is to not proclaim what we can’t proclaim—we’re not there yet, we have a lot of work to do—but to show our progress at BU [and] disrupt old narratives.” Coming to famously insular Boston can be hard for outsiders, she adds, but the city “is constantly changing, sometimes rapidly, sometimes with prodding, but with everyone’s inclusion and participation, we believe, ever for the better.”
The site also includes information about the second season of D&I’s Learn More Series, an annual yearlong exploration of a social topic. After last year’s inaugural series on race, this year’s will ponder What Is Social Class? Among the speakers will be Paul Farmer, cofounder of the nonprofit Partners in Health, which provides healthcare to poor people around the world. Farmer’s September 23 talk will address Social Class: A Global Perspective.
When she came to BU, Williams held up among her goals continuing to diversify the faculty and student body. She hopes the new website promotes that.
“And I hope the Cultural Guide will continue to help people once they join us and are on the ground,” she says. “Plus, I believe that the guide might be helpful to others in the region.”