February 6, 2024
Photography
Matt Burgos

Recently, we sat down with Bwann Gwann (she/her), WPI’s director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB), to get an understanding of her role, goals, and experience. She joined WPI in the fall and oversees the Inclusive Excellence Employee Resource Groups (IEERG) and the Diversity Advocate (DA) program and facilitates several DEIB-related trainings here on campus. 

She previously served as the director of Multicultural Affairs and Social Inclusion at Lesley University, where she developed opportunities for learning and engagement for faculty, staff, and students centered on inclusion, belonging, equity, and justice during her 10-year tenure. As former chair of the Lesley University Diversity Council, she worked closely with faculty and staff to understand their concerns on campus and with university administration to address issues raised by the campus community. She also served as the Interim Executive Director for Urban Scholars Initiative (USI), a Lesley University access program for first-generation college students from underserved communities.

Outside of her professional pursuits, Gwann is an active member in the City of Malden, where she serves as a board member of the Racial Equity Commission.  She has partnered with the Malden Chamber of Commerce on its outreach efforts to recruit diverse businesses and has served as board chair for the Human Rights and Fair Housing Commission of Malden. She has also served as a board member of the YWCA of Malden.

 

What excites you about the role of DEIB Director here at WPI?

What excites me is having the opportunity and privilege to connect with so many amazing people here. When I started at WPI in September, I conducted a “listening tour,” meeting with faculty, staff, and administrators to get a sense of the challenges that currently exist, but also to identify ways to solve some of these challenges in terms of fostering community and belonging. I  held at least 20 listening sessions and still have a few more to do in 2024. I’m also looking to get a sense of any collaboration and partnership opportunities that might be available with each of these individuals and areas. 

What does Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging mean to you personally?

To me, it means advocating for others, understanding and respecting differences, and being able to ensure that everyone can contribute to the working environment in some capacity while feeling seen, heard, and valued. DEIB includes building relationships, solving challenges, and addressing conflict that might put us in a position that might feel slightly uncomfortable, but it’s also being able to understand our differences and create an environment where we can celebrate our uniqueness as well as our ability to support one another in the campus community. 

DEIB continues to become an ever more visible topic that some may think is new, but you’ve been working in the area for quite a while. How does your experience inform or guide your approach at WPI?

The approach to my work in higher ed for over 10 years—working closely with faculty, administrators, and students—comes from a humanistic practice. This means I try to be genuine and understanding, and regularly advocate for others. This approach tends to get lost sometimes in DEIB work, where we have these high aspirations but sometimes struggle to truly commit to the actual doing of the work. For me, it’s identifying exactly what I can do to foster belonging and advocating for colleagues and students whose concerns are not being heard. I am committed to being an ally and what it means to be one: leading from the side or behind, not the front, so as not to make it about ourselves. 

You’re working closely with other members of the T&I team here at WPI to create, administer, and review DEIB-related human resource strategies for hiring, onboarding, performance management, and employee benefits. Can you tell us more about your approach to working toward an inclusive culture at WPI?

I’ve recently been working on a deliverable related to DEIB resources that are part of new employee onboarding—collaborating with colleagues and talent partners to ensure that employees are aware of these resources is important. I was able to leverage my own personal experience [of my own recent onboarding] in identifying what gaps there might have been in the onboarding process. I have partnered with my supervisor, Dr. Tony Laing, to incorporate information on available resources for new employees that discuss the wonderful work that has been done at WPI related to DEIB during the new hire onboarding. This includes events like the Wellness Symposium to the Diversity Advocates program and the inclusive excellence employee resource groups (IEERGs). We do our best to keep these resources up-to-date so that folks can get involved as early and for as long as possible, which is also a benefit to WPI, as so many members of our community want to contribute. 

Another part of your role will be to lead the newly formed Staff and Faculty of Color affinity groups and identify additional affinity groups that would support a climate of inclusion for employees. How will these groups help us advance our DEIB goals?

These affinity groups will help create smaller communities inside our larger community. This will allow our people to find belonging, to network, and to collaborate across departments or divisions. Groups like this allow us all to be closely connected that we can go to them for support, and engagement. This has already been successful with the faculty and staff of color affinity groups and the faculty and staff lunch-and-learns where folks can share what they’re working on and can foster engagement and mutual support. Events and programs like these also let us get to know each other on a deeper level and support the university’s institutional goals. I’d love to continue to create more of these, focused on other affinity areas while looking for areas of collaboration between them. We must have time out to breathe and feel human while caring for ourselves and one another; these groups can help with that, too. We all are desperately in need of community. 

What do you hope we will have achieved in the next five years?

I would love to see the data to understand how our culture is impacted by effective programming, spaces for engagement through the IEERGs, and other work to foster a greater sense of belonging and engagement. Our work is in building a desirable workplace and finding ways for people to belong, both formally and informally, while fostering genuine connection to others. I will continue to do what I do best—building community— to help increase the numbers of employees having a great experience here at WPI.