This interview with Terry Nance is the second in a two-part series. It follows our earlier conversations with Sa’ed Atshan, Maurice Eldridge, and Sarah Willie-LeBreton. We suggest also reading part 1.
A Quaker who attends at Swarthmore and Central Philadelphia Monthly Meetings, Terry Nance, Ph.D., has been a part of Villanova University’s faculty for over four decades, working actively to build diversity, equity, and inclusion among students and within the University’s systems. In July 2020, she was named the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), while continuing to serve the institution as Chief Diversity Officer.
Part II – A Career In Communication, DEI, and as Associate Vice Provost
Tell us a bit about your Villanova Career.
I came to Villanova in 1978, and it’s now been 43 years. I started as a faculty member in the Department of Communication, which wasn’t fully formed, and I got the chance to really grow communication, subsequently chairing the department.
From chairing the Department of Communication, I moved over to the Administration for Student Life, then becoming the Assistant Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion, running something (then) called the Multicultural Affairs Center.
In 2015, I went to the provost’s office, where I was an Associate Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion. In July of last year, I was made Vice President, and I am now the Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and officially the Chief Diversity Officer (even though I had been doing that work for many, many years.)
The work is important. When I got to Villanova in 1978, there was absolutely no talk of diversity and inclusion. We had an office called the Social Justice Office, and it was located in a small room. It was literally where the black students congregated or huddled. The Office of Disability (I can’t believe we called it that) also became part of this one tiny office.
How do you see your work at Villanova? What does it mean to be a professor?
You have three obligations as an academic: teaching, research, and service. My service work was always doing the kind of work that related to easing the burdens on the students, especially the Black and minority students.
I was the first African American person in my department. And for about 10 or 15 years, I was the only African American female in The College of Arts and Sciences.
It wasn’t just the Black students I served. It was the Latin student and the LGBTQ+ students, and if you can imagine, being LGBTQ+ was really tough back then. When we talk about these issues, we’re not just talking only about race; what we’re talking about is equity.
In 2005, Villanova (and many colleges and universities) was still defining diversity as ‘students’ business’, which becomes an essential formulation if you think about it. The notion was “all we have to do is get the students right and then diversity will be fine.” But actually, we (need to take) some responsibility for the university and the staff. Locating this work just in Student Life was washing your hands of the significance of what diversity is about.
Much of my work–in addition to providing services to our students who so desperately need them–was also educating the institution. We’ve been looking at policies and structures (like, who’s getting hired; who’s getting fired; why are they getting fired?) because those are the kinds of issues that shape the environment.
It’s not just whether or not students of color are happy or not. That question really depends on those other things as well.
As the Chief Diversity Officer, I recognize that we need to disperse diversity throughout the organization.
Following what I call this past summer of racial reckoning, after George Floyd’s death, a number of colleges kind of lost interest in some initiatives. But at Villanova, we’re still going strong because our taskforce, Aequitas, has taken on some very meaty kinds of issues.
We are changing from what I would say was ‘working with a DEI lens’ to framing and resolving problems through the lens of antiracism.
Anti-Racism work actually goes deeper. Would you like to talk more about the work that’s being done at Villanova?
And this is the point. The process of just sitting and listening to everybody’s voice and allowing everybody to ‘edit the piece’ is so wonderful. It’s more time-consuming, but people really feel more invested in what is actually a Quaker process.
In terms of what we’re working on at Villanova, we have 10 goals:
One is an antiracist assessment of the curriculum. High schools and colleges across the country are doing this right now. They are asking a series of questions to every academic subdivision. Questions about what is taught, what materials are being used, and what is the preparation of the faculty to teach across the lines of difference. Our team is designing a new assessment instrument for this purpose that will then be distributed across the college, and all departments will be invited to perform that assessment.
The second goal is creating a university-required diversity course that we’re calling the University Race and Justice Course (URJC) because when we think about race and justice, we’re really focusing not just on those two subject areas alone but also on responsibilities of knowing about these issues as members of Villanova University, a faith-based institution.
We ask: What is it that we need to learn from the past and how will that knowledge lead us to live better in the future.
URJC will be an exciting course. There will be asynchronous material that everyone will share providing background materials and ways to think about race and racism. Then, we are asking each of the colleges, (engineering, nursing, business, etc.,) to add to this material with an understanding of race and justice through the lens of their unique disciplines. In this way across the Colleges, the course will be both the same and different. What will unite all of this a dialogue component? Why? Because we believe in the value of dialogue. We recognize the importance of helping our students process and wrestle with the difficult topics they are learning. We can’t presume that students understand and know how to talk about race and equity. So, we have to help them.
The third goal is to have a diverse community. We clearly need to improve the number of faculty of color at the senior staff level and across the campus.
We were also on an upward trend and improving our diversity among students, but we need to do more. You can’t talk about recruiting students without talking about retaining and graduating, so we have a subcommittee focusing on that.. Recently, we just added a specific subcommittee here to work on issues of student access and success.
The fourth goal is campus climate. We have done a number of studies on campus climate. And in assessing climate, this committee will be identifying areas where we really need to focus on how people are feeling about the campus and where they see a need for change
Number five is police. We have a committee that’s really designed to look at what it means to do policing at Villanova and the relationships. The committee is asking the questions, ‘What does policing look like at Villanova.” One of the things that we heard is that our police officers are not feeling understood by students. The students are sure not feeling understood by the police officers. Clearly, there’s room to do better.
Number six is the student relations committee. We found that while we were expecting to have all of this tension between faculty and students, students are actually feeling fairly understood by most faculty, some exceptions of course, but where they had the greatest problems was with peers. We really need to talk about what those interracial relationships are like on campus, and that issue been assigned to the student relations committee.
Seven, we have a Communications Committee, and that committee will be doing a deep dive into Villanova’s brand. You may have heard people say that Villanova is “that rich white campus.” That’s not who we are. That’s not what we want to project. And so, we’re figuring that out; we know that that brand really starts inside. So how are we talking about ourselves? And what is the message that’s outside that might be influencing how we see ourselves!
And then we have the last few goals. We have a committee working on the professional development of faculty and staff.
That’s was a whole mouthful, but that’s the Aequitas Task Force. It is a big job, involving many people, and we know, none of this is going to produce instant results. We are in a careful and thoughtful process of change. Most important, we know that we’re going to be able to do it.
When it specifically comes to DEI, do you have any resources for people who don’t know a lot about it? They are not particularly towards the profession but just something to educate yourself with what you would like to recommend to them.
I have been very moved by Ibram Kendi’s books. One of them is Stamped From The Beginning, which is big, but it is wonderful. I think White Fragility is a good book, for some audiences. We use Allan G. Johnson’s book Power, Privilege, and Difference a lot. That is an academic textbook, but it reads in a friendly manner, not like a textbook. It really outlines what’s at the nexus of what we’re talking about power and privilege and how it leads to oppression.
Caste is really a good book, by Isabel Wilkerson.
That’s the beginning. What I would say to anyone is to also look at these books’ footnotes. Then start to read.
Last month was Black History Month. Do you have any more suggested books or articles, practices or resources, or Quaker meetings specifically, and worship groups that you would like to share directing people to?
When people ask me that question, I have to admit part of me wants to go…”have y’all looked on the internet?” I know that folks are genuinely interested but why ask me?
I am nobody’s Black History Savior. What I like to say is that “I’m not going to Morgan Freeman” the situation! (Morgan Freeman is a Black actor who frequently plays God. And then uses magical powers to resolve situations.) You have to look online and go to places you trust.
That said, I recommend going to PYM’s website or Universities around who are also doing so many wonderful free virtual events. Since everything is online now, I have heard speakers from around the country that I would not have had access to before.
The Free Library of Philadelphia has an incredible list of resources. I live in Center City, so my husband and I would frequently go to their free events available to everyone.
And the good thing about Black History Month is that where I am in South Philadelphia, there are Black History Month events, even still going on.
Don’t just ask one person to be your personal Savior, as far as Black history goes, get your commitment to this right, and use that commitment to go to reliable sources. Do some reading. And then, and then talk to somebody, and maybe even talk to somebody we don’t normally talk to.
That’s the real beginning of the journey.