Associate Vice President for Inclusive Excellence and Chief Diversity Officer Audrey Grace is charged with leading Regis’ Center for Inclusive Excellence. Here, she shares the reasons behind her passion to create authentically inclusive communities that celebrate diversity and ways we can all come together to help.
You have said that you have “a deep and unwavering commitment to social justice, equity, and inclusion for all.” When and why did this develop?
My deep commitment to social justice, equity, and inclusion was instilled upon me first and foremost by my parents. They raised me to believe that the world could be a much better place for everyone and that I could have a part in helping that happen. I was regularly exposed to different cultures and never sheltered me from reality. But I also learned from an early age what it feels like to not belong, to not fit in. As a biracial child growing up in a time when that was rare, I learned pretty quickly that I was different. My goal is to help build a world where no one experiences that feeling of being “othered.”
How did you turn that passion into a career?
As an undergraduate at Fordham, I got involved in global outreach, which exposed me to different cultures, domestically and abroad, while at the same time teaching me the difference between service and volun-tourism. An internship at the United Nations and work at a nonprofit microcredit organization in Haiti inspired me to attend Northeastern University School of Law because of its public interest and social justice focus. There, I was finally able to identify my true passion: speaking up for those who were not able to do so themselves.
What are some of the biggest accomplishments or highlights of your career (or personal work) thus far?
Many of what I consider my accomplishment actually come from the relationships I’ve formed and the conversations that we’ve had. While working at Northeastern, I launched a staff mentoring circle and two affinity groups-the Northeastern University Future Leaders and NUParents for working parents-for personal and professional development, networking, and a space for sharing how to navigate higher education and careers. I am also a representative Town Meeting member for my town and an appointee to the affordable housing partnership. In those roles, I’m able to act as a voice for my community and help to bring people together over issues that matter most to everyone.
What are the most important aspects of creating an inclusive environment?
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to creating an inclusive environment, one of the essential aspects is a community-wide effort. It’s all of our jobs to ensure that we are fostering welcoming and inclusive spaces for all-not just those with “inclusive” in their title.
What are some initiatives you’re working on at Regis?
To help foster a culture of respect, civility, tolerance, and improved cultural humility, I intend to create an infrastructure for diversity awareness and cultural competency training. I also hope to build regular opportunities for feedback because it is not enough to create an inclusive environment; it must also be maintained. I also hope to elevate and expand upon the work already being done to build an inclusive community and develop a long-range strategic plan.
What has it been like starting a new job right as the COVID-19 crisis had forced the university to move to entirely online education and remote work?
In my short time at Regis, I have seen the hard work and extraordinary lengths that the community has gone through to protect and serve one another. From our students who uprooted themselves, yet continue to learn, to our hard working and tireless staff who have helped to manage this transition without losing a beat, to many of the faculty who have had to quickly rethink how they are continuing to deliver a quality education, to our alumni and community partners who are also facing their own challenges-including standing at the front line of this crisis. I am truly in awe.
How will the Center for Inclusive Excellence at Regis serve as a platform to advocate for bringing together such a diverse campus community?
Many people do not believe that the term “diversity” applies to them, but we all have a story to tell or an experience to share. The Center for Inclusive Excellence has a strong track record of developing intentional programming to bring together people across identities, and there must be more intentional opportunities to talk about diversity, celebrate our diversity, and think about how we can challenge and support the entire Regis community as we come together and connect across our differences. The center also serves as a space for students who have been historically excluded or underrepresented to be their fullest selves and recharge.
When it comes to the topic of diversity, why is inclusion such an important component?
By the broadest definitions of diversity, we are diverse but often members of our community are overlooked or feel excluded. Inclusion is ensuring that as much as possible, people who join events, programs, and college campuses feel that they are being included and that they belong. Without inclusion, we cannot benefit from the diversity of our community. I know that the Regis community understands the importance of inclusion, as well as diversity. Regis’ foundation is inclusion-its mission and core values are to love, serve, and respect the Dear Neighbor without distinction. I hope to build upon that foundation in my work.
What advice would you give to people to help them create an inclusive community?
My top three pieces of advice for those wishing to help build an inclusive community are:
What do you most enjoy about working in higher education?
Working in higher education gives me the opportunity to guide and mentor the next generation of educators, lawyers, politicians, doctors, changemakers, and more-just as someone once did for me. It is exciting to be working with students because they are so full of energy, empathy, and drive. I also enjoy being among faculty, staff, alumni, and other constituents who come together to help shape the next generation.
Before working in higher education, you practiced criminal defense law in Boston. How did this tie into your commitment to equity and inclusion for all?
My experiences as a practicing attorney deepened my commitment to equity and inclusion because they taught me that the justice system is structured to ignore a long history of injustice. Working in the Maine Superior Court during the foreclosure crisis and in indigent defense as we were coming out of a recession opened my eyes to the results of a history of systemic inequities and a lack of resources. It was in those moments that I was able to use my privilege, my education, my willingness to listen, and my ability to share the stories of others to make a difference for my clients on an individual level. It also made me see the extent to which systems are set up to dehumanize those that move through them and showed me that one must look at issues of equity and inclusion for all on a systemic level to truly make an impact.