Anne A. Skleder

Advancing diversity and internationalization

In this edition of Brenau Window, you will read about two important initiatives — diversity, equity and inclusive excellence, and internationalization of our campuses — that are surfacing as part of our strategic planning efforts and the steps we are taking to address them.

These two initiatives go hand in hand as they will help shape and guide Brenau for the foreseeable future. Research shows that communities and institutions that increase and embrace diversity of thought and background perform better on key metrics than those who neglect these values. In the context of Brenau University, we do a better job of delivering on our promise of preparing students for the global world that awaits them when they can draw on experiences of healthy diversity, equity and inclusive excellence. The internationalization of our campuses aids in these efforts.

Brenau is poised to set the standard of being a place where people can question and disagree civilly as they learn to make arguments supported by evidence — a place where our students learn to hold two opposing thoughts at once and lean into the liberal arts foundation not to limit thought but to evaluate ideas through critical thinking and research. We intend to redouble our efforts to prepare our students to enter a world of challenge and cultural plurality.

The overwhelming message I hear through the initial conversations of our strategic planning process is that Brenau is strong and serves a vital mission in our communities. The heritage and strength we’ve had for over 140 years is helping us to create a thriving institution where a historic women’s college meets an innovative comprehensive university, transforming lives.

Brenau’s heritage and position of strength are indispensable assets as the university moves into its next round of strategic planning. The plan must capture what we believe should never change about Brenau and what we will enrich and build upon that will position us well for a changing higher education landscape.

As the Brenau community continues to become more diverse, we must seize the opportunity to lead in diversity, equity and inclusive excellence. This endeavor is not one with easy answers and requires continued and constant dialogue.

While awareness of these calls to action is critical, it’s only the first step. The next step is action. I am very proud of our university community, but there is no community and no institution immune to the long-standing impact of racism. There is no community and no institution that is “finished” with this important work. As a community, our responsibility is to ensure that we are an excellent leader in diversity, equity and inclusion. One of the best ways we can address racism and intolerance is to provide graduates who, day-to-day, had lived out experiences on our campuses that embrace these values.

I am pleased that two university leaders have enthusiastically agreed to my request to serve as our co-chief diversity leaders and co-chairs of the Working Group on Diversity, Equity and Inclusive Excellence at Brenau University. This group includes members from across the university, including students and alumni.

Margie Gill, associate professor of psychology, and Amanda Lammers, vice president of Student Services, are leading the development of short- and longer-term strategies for diversity, equity and inclusive excellence at Brenau University. The group is currently assessing the work that needs to be done. I will keep you regularly updated on their progress.

International partnerships with Brenau are appealing to many countries because of our twin commitments to providing access to qualified first-generation college students, which includes many international students, and to being a community that engages the full potential of each individual, where innovation thrives, and views, beliefs and values are integrated.

Internationalization efforts are vital as our world is flattening. For centuries scholars, scientists and philosophers argued and debated the shape of our world. Of course, the scientists persevered as they proved the physical dimensions of our planet. Today, in the geopolitical and geoeconomic sense, the world is flattening in terms of a level playing field in everything from commerce to technology.

At Brenau University, we simply must be a part of the global community as we seek to educate more students who come to us from other countries and as we send our domestic students and faculty around the globe. U.S. higher education remains the gold standard around the world, and we know our
international students benefit from a Brenau education. While that is a worthy outcome, we also know our domestic students benefit from having international classmates.

Our graduates undoubtedly will work with other highly educated people who represent diverse cultures and values. Growing our international presence both on our campuses and around the world helps to increase our domestic students’ cultural awareness as they prepare to compete in a global society.

Our internationalization efforts are embraced by faculty, staff, students and our board, and they will be supported, in part, through Brenau’s Quality Enhancement Plan, which is focused on developing undergraduate students’ intercultural competencies for interacting productively in a variety of contexts. This plan, derived from ongoing planning and evaluation processes, is part of the reaffirmation process with our regional accreditor, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Woman and man touch elbows in front of Brenau University banner.
Brenau University President Anne Skleder and Director General Bernardo Meneses of the Institute for the Development of Human Resources (IFARHU), Panama’s financial aid agency, mark the signing of a partnership agreement between Brenau and IFARHU on Brenau’s historic Gainesville campus Nov. 16 . (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

It is important to note that neither of these initiatives is taking place in isolation from our strategic planning process.

Brenau’s heritage and position of strength are indispensable assets as the university moves into its next round of strategic planning. The plan must capture what we believe should never change about Brenau and what we will enrich and build upon that will position us well for a changing higher education landscape.

The strategic plan isn’t my plan or the trustees’ plan or the faculty’s plan. This document we call the strategic plan is simply the summary of our process that holds the hopes and dreams of the many as we embark on the next chapter of Brenau, and it provides a roadmap for living into them.

One thing is clear: Partnership is important to our future. Here at home and broad, we must seek to partner in new and enriched ways across the spectrum through creative and unconventional initiatives. Universities that can do this will continue to thrive. With your help and support, we will be a leader among them.

Anne A. Skleder, Ph.D. | President, Brenau University

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