Equity Office expands positions, works to prevent bias

Robyn Driskell, Ph.D., Vice President for Internal Administration and Compliance and Chief of Staff. Photo courtesy of Baylor.edu

By Sophie Acebo | Reporter

Baylor’s Equity Office joined campus in keeping with the university’s mission of creating a caring atmosphere for its entire community, and has recently expanded positions within the department.

Officially established a year and a half ago, the Equity Office “handles matters concerning equal opportunity, affirmative action, civil rights, and related training.” They are located in the same suite as the Title IX Office on the second floor of Clifton Robinson Tower.

Dr. Robyn Driskell, vice president for internal administration and compliance and chief of staff, oversees all members of the Equity Office. She also reports directly to Baylor president Dr. Linda Livingstone.

“The Equity Office has officially been an office for about a year and a half,” Driskell said. “We had pieces of it that we were doing at Baylor, but it was not under one umbrella of the Equity Office, and so we were able to bring the individuals and the services together under one office.”

The office serves Baylor in an effort to fight any type of bias discrimination. Driskell said that one objective of the office is to offer trainings for the campus, including both faculty and students.

“We have different trainings, and these are in-person seminars,” Driskell said. “These really look at biases, discrimination, how to respect others… those types of trainings.”

These trainings also extend to different departments and areas of campus so they can focus into smaller groups. Driskell said they even train faculty through the hiring process.

“We also train faculty when they’re going to do a search for new faculty members,” Driskell said. “It’s not just the legal aspect of what you can and can’t do; it’s really a training of unconscious biases and how to obtain a very deep and diverse pool, logistics of where to advertise and all aspects of a job search so that we can get the best candidates for positions.”

Driskell said the Equity Office also handles discrimination reports directly and works toward investigating these claims and bringing justice.

“We also handle any discrimination claims or civil rights claims; we will see if it is a violation of policy and work with those individuals,” Driskell said “We’ll do investigations when they rise to a policy violation and then work with all parties on that to do our best to resolve it.”

Driskell said the office is also heavily involved in the President’s Diversity Council.

With representatives from a variety of areas on campus, the council works to “promote diversity as a foundation of Baylor’s caring Christian community” and “continue to enhance and cultivate the Baylor experience where faculty, staff, and students are safe, welcomed, supported, and valued by the University and each other.”

“When we established the Equity Office, we also established the President’s Diversity Council,” Driskell said. “It has representatives from each of the academic areas but also other areas like athletics.”

Among these members are also student representatives who represent both undergraduate and graduate students. As part of their mission and goals, the President’s Diversity Council seeks to diversify the faculty community and bring more representation into the classrooms.

“One of the things we focused on last year was increasing faculty diversity,” Driskell said. “We have been very successful in hiring new cohorts of faculty that are more diverse.”

As part of the expansion and strengthening of the Equity Office, the announcement came earlier this month that they have recently been able to hire new leadership to build support in the office, they will start their new positions Dec. 9.

One of the new hires that will be joining the Equity Office is Brice Yates, who was previously with Indiana State University as the interim associate vice president for inclusive excellence. Yates will now serve Baylor as the assistant vice president for equity.

Dr. Laura Johnson, who is Baylor’s Title IX Coordinator, will have a new role attached to this as the university’s associate vice president for equity.

“It’s an area that’s very important to us, so really just expanding it provides more support and we really value the initiatives and what’s going on in the Equity Office,” Driskell said. “Both Brice Yates and Laura Johnson will provide that leadership that they can do.”

One aspect of the Equity Office that Driskell said needs emphasis is that they report to the president, and that the diversity council works closely with the president in discussing these important topics.

“We really place high importance on these offices and the role that they play in the university, especially going forward,” Driskell said.

The Equity Office also partners with departments all over campus, like the Department of Multicultural Affairs, who are also working towards diversity on campus.

“There is enough work to go around; we are not trying to take anything away from what they’re doing,” Driskell said. “We just partner with them and just make sure everyone is working together and we’re all on the same page.”

San Antonio junior Sophia Alejandro said she is grateful the Equity Office is an available resource on campus for those who may not feel seen.

“The Equity Office is important to have at Baylor to ensure all students are being treated fairly, regardless of physical and biological attributes,” Alejandro said. “It’s needed at Baylor to provide a standard of treatment for all students.”

As the university continues its discussion on civil discourse, programs like the Equity Office are highlighted for their work.

“I think it’s a really important area, especially given what we’re going through nationally,” Driskell said. “I think it’s important that people know they will be heard and addressed if they have any concerns.”

For any assistance or information on reporting, email the Equity Office or visit Baylor’s Report It website for all the different ways to report an issue or concern.