Lenoir-Rhyne University launches Equity and Diversity Institute

Press release from Lenoir-Rhyne University:

Dedicated equity advocates work tirelessly to untangle their connections to bias. They eagerly face challenges and actively pursue positive change.

To help inspire social change, Lenoir-Rhyne University has launched the Lenoir-Rhyne Equity and Diversity Institute — LREDI — certificate program.

“Essentially, it will be a training program for companies or individuals who want to infuse equity into the work they do,” said Dr. Michael Dempsey, dean and director of the Center for Graduate Studies of Asheville. “I see it as a corporate training program where companies weave equity and diversity into their operation. I also envision it as a learning opportunity for individuals who simply want to improve their community.”

While its need is more important than ever, LREDI is a certificate and training program that is actually a year in the making.

A 30-hour program, LREDI provides participants 16 hours of coursework focused on leadership with 12 additional hours of strategy geared toward company-specific solutions. It culminates in a session that allows participants to explore equity as it relates to real-life scenarios.

When participants complete the program, they gain viable options and solutions for marketing strategy, equitable recruitment plans and an honest organizational assessment.

LREDI instruction will be provided virtually via zoom during the fall semester. In future semesters, the program will be delivered through a hybrid model of combined face-to-face and virtual instruction. In addition, companies will be able to request face-to-face instruction at their facilities.

“This is not a course on historical perspective,” Dempsey said. “Our goal is to train people and provide them with deliverables that they can use to ensure equity and diversity are core principles in their professional and personal lives.”

Adams pitched the original concept for the program to Dempsey and will stay on board as program developer.

A Birmingham, Alabama native, Adams moved to Asheville after earning a master’s degree in education and was recruited to teach in Asheville City Schools. She moved into social entrepreneurship thereafter, serving as a social media influencer and communications consultant building her own media company, Aisha Adams Media Group (AAMG). She was recently featured in a story by Forbes that looked into best practices for developing diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Adams is familiar with Lenoir-Rhyne, having served as an administrator with AAMG’s The Folding Chair sessions and Entrepreneur Accelerator programs that focus on teaching social equity and aiding minorities and low-earning entrepreneurs.

“LR has already been a community equity activist and to have it embedded in the curriculum is amazing,” she said.

She has already worked with Dogwood Health Trust to secure a $13,300 grant to fund technology for the program’s asset lab, which is designed to help participants create equity-related strategies and tools that can be implemented in the workplace.

Participants can take each course individually, or they can complete the entire program by receiving an official certificate following its successful completion, along with a company-changing skill set.

Specific classes include Foundations of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Equity over Everything and Starting the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Discussions.

“Our instructors are amazing,” Adams said. “They have combined for over 100 years of experience cultivating places of diversity, equity and inclusivity.”

Programs similar to LREDI have been developed at Cornell University, Harvard University, the University of Southern California and the University of Michigan.

The program is based out of Lenoir-Rhyne, Asheville Center; however, due to COVID-19, it has been adapted and is being offered remotely to anyone throughout the country, as well.

“It’s an opportunity for professionals to go through this certification and training and take away something tangible that will make sure their organization is more inclusive,” said Emma Sellers, director of the Lenoir-Rhyne Office of Multicultural Affairs. “Is that in advertising? Is that in leadership? This is not where we learn about biases. It’s not where we learn about racism. There is a lab where whatever you create goes directly toward what your organization needs.”

Adams said the original goal was to have 30 individuals take the course in its first academic calendar year. However, nearly 50 organizations have already reached out to her with interest. She said the program originally looked to have four-to-eight sessions the first year, but interest and need will drive how often it is available.

Additional information about the Lenoir-Rhyne Equity and Diversity Institute, including upcoming course schedule and registration details, is available at www.lr.edu/lredi. Registration is now open for courses offered September 18-20, September 25-27 and October 16-18. Inquiries can be directed to LREDI@lr.edu or 828.407.4271.

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