We are pleased to introduce our very own Professor Sara Shady as the new Associate Dean for Academic Inclusive Excellence at Bethel University! Professor Shady recently took the time to share a bit about her newest position with us, and what that means for our department and the future of Bethel.

What will your work as the new Associate Dean for Academic Inclusive Excellence look like? What sorts of things will you be doing?

I will be working directly with Dr. Rahn Franklin, vice president of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, to develop an understanding of, imagination for, and ability to implement and assess inclusive excellence in the curriculum and climate of every academic department/program, as well as in the work of every faculty member. This will mean working directly with departments to process current assessment data about their programs, help departments articulate statements about the why, what, and how of inclusive excellence in their programs, create and implement measurable outcomes related to academic inclusive excellence in their assessment plans, etc. This will also mean working to identify and provide resources and support to help faculty do this work well.

I want us to think of Academic Inclusive Excellence in the same way we think of Faith Learning Integration… it is something that we all must do (or GET TO DO!) in all of our classes and in our progams at large. But there are lots of different ways to do that given different disciplinary perspectives and faculty strengths.

Here’s a visual of the core principles of inclusive excellence… so I’ll be working to grow these themes in an academic context university wide.

What do you hope to accomplish in this position, and who will you be working with to achieve those goals?

Most importantly, we’re working to create a learning environment at Bethel where the diversity of all students is recognized and celebrated and where every student has access to an excellent education. To be excellent teachers, we must grow in our ability to teach every student well. The goal is that by the end of 3 years, every department and program will have created and/or grown a measurable plan for academic inclusive excellence. We will be growing our capacity to do this work well, in discipline-specific ways.

I report directly to the Provost (Robin Rylaarsdam) and VP for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (Rahn Franklin). I’ll also be working with the rest of Rahn’s team: Dr. Courtney Bell-Duncan (newly hired Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) and Paul Kong (Associate Campus Pastor for Cultural Engagement). And, I’ll be partnering with existing faculty development committees in CAS and CAPS/Sem/GS, as well as existing working groups like Take Action and Micah 6:8.

How will this impact your responsibilities as a philosopher professor? Will you still be teaching in our department?

I will still remain Professor of Philosophy. I will no longer be co-chair for HiPPoS (Amy Poppinga and Andy Bramsen have that role for next year). The new position fills 4/7 of my teaching load at Bethel, so I’ll still be teaching 3 courses a year. But, in 2022-23, I’m on sabbatical so I’ve woven my 3/7 of research leave with my 4/7 of Associate Dean time and won’t be teaching at all next year. I will still be on campus, though!

Do you see any relationship between your roles as a philosophy professor and as Associate Dean for Academic Inclusive Excellence?

Absolutely! My research as a philosopher has always focused on how to facilitate health unity amidst significant diversity (whether that is race/ethnicity, religion, gender, class, etc.) I’ve been working most recently on cultivating empathy as an intellectual virtue, and I’m looking forward to learning more about how to teach empathy well.

Why do you think this kind of work is important?

Lots of reasons, in no particular order: 

It is personal for me. I have a BIPOC son who also has some special learning needs. My husband and I seek academic inclusive excellence for him on a daily basis.

We need to do better at this at Bethel. Data related to our students’ capacity to engage difference in constructive ways is low. Demographics in the US will never be any more homogenous than they are now or were in the past. We have to adjust our styles of education.

Quoting former US Senator (from Minnesota) Paul Wellstone “We all do better when we all do better.” Inclusive excellence isn’t just about BIPOC students, it is about all students. The more we learn from each other, and the more hospitable to diversity our classrooms and curriculums are, the more we all learn.

It is missional. As Christians: “For God’s glory, and neighbor’s good.” The body of Christ is beautifully diverse and we need to recognize and celebrate that. Bethel needs to continue to grow to be a place where every member of the body of Christ can thrive.

To learn more about Dr. Shady, check out her faculty bio on our blog.

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