As the comprehensive teaching university of Southeastern Massachusetts, Bridgewater State University (BSU) is the tenth largest higher education institution in the Commonwealth. From 2008-2012, the Nellie Mae Foundation established and funded Project Compass, which was focused on systematizing “institutional-level changes needed to expand, sustain, and integrate evidence based efforts to” close educational equity gaps (Burack & Lanspery, 2016). Bridgewater State University, as one of the four Project Compass campuses, engaged in monthly meetings with a robust campus-based interdivisional team in order to obtain and use data and pilot interventions intended to close educational equity gaps. During this period BSU was able to virtually eliminate the equity gaps in retention; the Black, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian and other students of color, first generation, low income students and first-time-full-time students overall attending BSU were retained at 80-81%. During the same time period BSU’s six-year graduation rate for all students increased by 3.5% -- and by 13% for students of color (Gentlewarrior, 2012).
Due to campus-wide support and collaboration from a range of BSU faculty and staff, BSU hosted the Leading for Change Conference in the summer of 2013 with the intention of sharing lessons learned during our Project Compass educational equity efforts. Interdivisional teams from the 80+ campuses in Massachusetts were invited to attend; 49 campuses sent teams to the two-day conference. While the attendees spanned the public and private sector and were from a range of mission classes, all shared in common the desire to identify data-informed strategies to close educational equity gaps.
Attendees were asked to meet together before attending the conference to examine their retention and graduation rate disaggregated data in order to determine if equity gaps existed and to discuss ongoing campus efforts to close those gaps. Many of the attendees indicated that they had never worked with their campus colleagues on these issues before being invited to the conference. At the close of the conference, assessment data indicated participants’ desire to continue to meet and work together on these issues.
In an effort to build on the momentum and through the collaborative leadership of colleagues across the Commonwealth, the Leading for Change Consortium was launched in 2014 at Bridgewater State University. University and college presidents in Massachusetts were invited to have their institutions join the consortium. Requirements for membership have remained the same from 2014 to present: Presidents charge and convene an interdivisional team who meet monthly to examine institutional data related to their equity gaps; discuss strategies intended to eliminate the gaps and work together to implement and when appropriate assess the interventions; campus teams attend the consortium’s learning community convenings intended to help us support one another’s progress; and as campuses identify practices that data suggests will help to close educational gaps, they agree to freely share this knowledge. During these years while Leading for Change focused on racial equity and justice, it was not the group’s singular focus.
In 2018 in recognition that Black, Latinx, Asian, Indigenous, and other students of color continue to experience equity gaps at all of our campuses, the Leading for Change Consortium shifted our focus from working on all educational equity gaps to racial educational equity and justice within an intersectional frame. As a result, the group rebranded itself as The Leading for Change Racial Equity and Justice Institute (REJI). REJI member institutions meet monthly on their campuses to complete the REJI facilitator-created curriculum intended to increase our abilities to deepen our work for racial educational equity. The entire consortium meets together virtually monthly in educational equity workshops, racial affinity caucuses and twice yearly day-long summits in order to build our skills in achieving educational equity and justice.
Campuses interested in joining the REJI free-of-charge are encouraged to contact BSU’s Vice President of Student Success, Equity and Diversity and REJI Convener Sabrina Gentlewarrior at firstname.lastname@example.org.