A Q&A with Morgan Torian, Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging
Recently we sat down with Morgan Torian, the inaugural Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) to get an understanding of her newly created role, goals, and experience. Morgan comes to WPI from TeamSnap where she was a Recruiter & Learning and Communications Coordinator. Prior to TeamSnap, she was Associate Director of Diversity and Inclusion within the Office of Human Resources at Eckerd College, where she was the inaugural DEI practitioner. She has 10 years of experience in service learning, DEI, social justice, and HR. Since joining WPI in mid-March, she has immersed herself in understanding existing DEIB efforts and working toward expanding the cultural competency of the WPI community.
What excites you about your role?
First and foremost, I'm excited to be back in higher education. I'm also excited to be back working in the DEI space, which is my passion, while bringing together my years of experience in higher education, and my newfound understanding, knowledge, and expertise within the HR space. I’m very excited because WPI seems to be at an interesting place in its history and in our history as a country. It was so interesting and informative in the interview process for me to meet many of the key constituents for this work. While there are many more that I haven't yet met, it's refreshing to see so many people who bought into DEIB efforts who are excited and energized by this work. I’m excited to do amazing work with amazing people. I'm looking forward to challenging the community, me included, in an authentic way and to watch that learning and growth happen together.
As a society, we’ve been socialized and—taught not to speak about topics related to DEIB. As a result, we end up “othering” entire communities of people—pushing them to the margins of society. This has been normalized as the societal expectation in building community, and that’s the opposite of the truth. Folks need to be seen, heard, understood, and celebrated for their cultural differences and identities. This is central to belonging and I’m ready to engage with the WPI community to make this happen.
What does Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging mean to you personally? And professionally?
I do my best to live in a way that is anti-oppressive, anti-racist, anti-patriarchy, anti-all oppressive power structures. I'm a biracial Black woman who was born in Worcester but also raised in a very small town in New Hampshire. Growing up, I was the only one who looked like me in my community. I also came from a very low-income background. I went to college in Springfield and then I moved across the country. A lot of my passion for this work, I think, stems from my childhood experiences with my identities, which have been central to my personal learning and growth. Also, I’ve been fortunate to have lived in different places across the country and even abroad. These opportunities have given me a wide variety of cross-cultural and intercultural experiences, which ultimately support my success in this work. I’m a curious person—when I meet new people, I want to learn about their personal stories and journeys; I want to know what experiences they’ve had that have made them who they are. My goal is to connect authentically with people that way and teach them how to connect with others the same way.
Part of your role will be to develop and facilitate DEIB-related training with a focus on building cultural competency of staff, faculty, and students. How will you identify what gaps exist in current training and offerings?
I’m currently reviewing what we've done in the past as a starting place to build relationships and identifying what folks feel like they need and what their experience has been. For example, I’ve heard that there’s a need for inclusive language training. Members of the WPI community would like to expand their foundational awareness and education around what language we should be using along with where to go to find the most up-to-date language, as it’s ever evolving. I’m looking forward to building a level of trust within our community so that ongoing open conversations around infusing DEIB into our culture become commonplace.
You’ll be 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 talk a bit about that?
I think there's a lot of opportunity in the learning and development of our people. Right now, I’m looking to work on faculty searches and recruitment and am partnering with some of our DEIB advocates to learn about what they’ve done in the past and what type of development opportunities they would like to see in the future. We’ll also be looking to build out a series of trainings and workshops that could be considered the foundations of DEIB. These would include topics like inclusive language, identity development, and building intercultural competence. I'm hoping that next year we’ll have some of those built out for all WPI employees.
There’s also a clear need for recruitment of more folks from minoritized backgrounds, and the work doesn’t end with recruitment. We also need to keep folks engaged while they're here, so I'm planning to work to create critical spaces of community that are not tied to productivity, but for us to just “be” – spaces of radical joy and community. In DEIB work, these spaces are typically referred to as counterspaces. These shared spaces can help us build strong relationships, which will in turn create the foundation upon which we can create dynamic culture shifts and change policies that no longer work for our community.
Another part of your role will be to launch the Staff and Faculty of Color Lunch and Learn series. Can you tell us more about that and how it will help us advance our DEIB goals?
The purpose of these lunches is for employees of color to get together, be in community with one another, and celebrate each other's work. These lunches will have one to two faculty or staff of color presenting on their research or some form of their work—or they can bring a “problem of practice,” which is a challenge that they're experiencing in their work. We can utilize the group space to help problem solve that challenge together. We have one more lunch coming up this term on May 2.
You’ve no doubt been watching the increasing focus on DEIB across industries everywhere. How do your past roles inform or guide your approach in this new role?
I have a curious mind. I think that has brought me success in this work. So, wherever there is an opportunity to learn and be present, I will be there, learning, growing, evolving, and adapting my approach to create connections with others. This mindset also applies to how I build training and development opportunities; I recognize that not everyone learns or engages in the same ways. It’s my goal to meet folks where they’re at while providing opportunities that are meaningful and impactful for them. I’m very much a “why not” type of person and I mean it when I say I can’t do this work without the community! I very much encourage folks to reach out and bring their ideas so we can run with them together. I believe in open feedback loops and consistently reassessing and improving our approach as we learn. I believe flexibility and an open, collaborative mindset are key to our shared success in DEIB.
What resources or partnerships do you think will be most important in achieving your DEIB goals at WPI?
I believe deeply that this work starts in university leadership; we need the buy-in and support from our leadership to be successful in our efforts. I’m so appreciative that we have that buy-in here at WPI. Faculty and staff are also central to this work—we can’t do this work without them! We need their feedback, buy-in, and engagement so we can really move the needle as an organization. While my work doesn’t face students or alumni directly, I do see them as important to our work, so it’ll be imperative to gather their thoughts and feedback on our efforts. Last, but certainly not least, partnership with the local community is an opportunity for us as an organization to grow and evolve. There's a lot of rich talent right here in Worcester and in the surrounding area, so I think we have an incredible opportunity to expand the partnerships that already exist and build valuable and rewarding new ones.
How will you measure success? What strides do you envision for DEIB and WPI’s campus in general over the next five years?
Right now, I’m taking as much time as I can to absorb all of WPI: its people, its spaces, and its culture. I would love it if you came back and asked me this question in a year! My answer depends on what I learn from the community. In the next five years, I would really love to see a sturdy foundation for our DEIB efforts created here. By that, I mean that from the moment someone applies to WPI, they understand who we are from a DEIB perspective, and that understanding is expanded upon as their relationship with us grows. I’d love to see DEIB infused throughout the university into all aspects of who we are and what we do. I would also love to see a more diverse faculty and staff base and a strongly built community with spaces that support all of us. Finally, something I’m always thinking about is the accessibility of our spaces and services. I think this Is a tremendous opportunity for us to grow and will continue to be front and center as we evolve.