When Usama Shaikh, the assistant chief diversity officer in the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives, got to Stony Brook University, he knew it was special. The university has a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion, something Shaikh saw from his first interview, but he wanted to do something to confirm and even celebrate the progress.
So, he approached Judi Brown Clarke, Stony Brook’s vice president for equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer, about making that happen. The result? A recognition from Insight into Diversity’s 2023 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award.
“We put in the application, and I knew that we were a strong candidate for it. And they obviously agreed,” said Shaikh.
Achieving this award was no easy feat — the application itself is about 56 in-depth questions, which Shaikh had to parcel up and coordinate with other departments.
“These questions include demographics, but then they also focus on initiatives and outcomes, leadership support, organization support, and finances. It’s a lot of work that goes into answering all those questions,” he explained, meaning that schools that apply would have to be well-rounded in all of these fields.
He also worked very closely with Braden Hosch, vice president for educational and institutional effectiveness, to focus on demographics and graduation rates. One of the key focuses of this award was the fact that Stony Brook was able to raise four-year graduation rates by 18 percent in the last decade, while closing equity gaps.
“Our graduation rates for our students, regardless of race/ethnicity, are pretty much the same across the board. So, when you look at these rates, that’s it that’s been something that we’re very proud of,” he said.
Other important factors for Stony Brook include the Simons STEM Scholars Program, Project REACH and the IDEA Fellows Program in the College of Arts and Sciences. All of these, said Shaikh, make Stony Brook unique and showcase that the university is tackling diversity and inclusion from all angles.
“We’re not talking about just our students, or how much we put into it; we’re also talking about how we are also changing the landscape of the university from multiple layers,” he said. “We’re creating collaborative interdisciplinary work, we’re creating pipelines, not only for students that are coming in from our enrollment processes, but also for our faculty recruitment perspective, as well.”
While Shaikh understands that the work in diversity and inclusion is never done, he says that this honor allows Stony Brook University to shine a spotlight on the work that has already been done, while creating a path forward for the future. While he looks to continue to build the university, he wants to also ensure to highlight other components of Stony Brook that stand out, such as Stony Brook Medicine.
“There are a lot of wonderful pockets of work that are happening, which sets us up for success,” he said. “Diversity is embedded in every aspect of our institution, which shows through our application for this recognition.”
— Emily Cappiello