The Charger Blog

‘The Return of the JEDI… and Assistant Provost for DEI’

A year after beginning my role as the University’s assistant provost for diversity, equity, and inclusion, I reflect on everything the University community has done over the past year, and I look forward to everything we are sure to accomplish during the upcoming academic year.

September 5, 2021

By Alvin Tran, Sc.D., MPH

Alvin Tran and Karl Minges with graduates.
Alvin Tran, Sc.D., MPH, (in red) and Karl Minges, Ph.D., MPH with new graduates of the University’s Master of Public Health program.

When I received an unexpected calendar meeting invite from the Provost’s Office last year, my first thought was ‘uh oh. What did I do?’ What would the Provost’s Office want with me, I wondered. The meeting was a pleasant surprise because, well, I didn’t get the boot. Phew. Instead, interim Provost Mario Gaboury asked me to serve as the Assistant Provost for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). And, after careful thought and reviewing the longlist of concerns I heard students raise during the past year, I accepted. After all, when would I ever get an opportunity like this again?

It has been a year since that August 2020 meeting. Within that time, which seemed like it passed by at warp speed, I was able to check off numerous items on my ‘DEI-to-do’ list. I share three of my favorite achievements below.

Launch of the JEDI Progam

In response to student concerns around the absence of unpaid opportunities to do DEI-work, I established the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Ambassadors program. I carefully selected nine students across the University’s five academic colleges and schools to serve as student representatives tasked with spearheading DEI-initiatives focused on supporting students of color, LGBTQ students, and students from other historically marginalized backgrounds.

Within a short timespan, the JEDIs developed and disseminated surveys to solicit feedback from their peers, organized conferences for high school students across Connecticut, co-led inclusive teaching workshops for faculty, and served as advocates for institutional change at the University. To those who have been asking, yes, the JEDIs will be returning this fall semester. A call for the next cohort is underway.

In response to concerns around the misgendering of members of the campus community, I invited JEDI expert Kay Martinez to lead an interactive workshop for instructors. More than 200 faculty members attended the 90-minute workshop to learn about the importance of respecting one’s pronouns in and outside of the classroom. More workshops aimed at supporting the transgender community will be offered to students this upcoming year.

Alvin Tran crabbing during the summer.
Alvin Tran, Sc.D., MPH, went crabbing while visiting his parents in Washington State over the summer.
Inaugural Lavender Commencement Ceremony

Lastly, with great support from our Dean of Students, Ophelie Rowe-Allen, and the Myatt Center for Diversity and Inclusion leadership team, Carrie Robinson and Zanaiya Leon, we organized our University’s inaugural Lavender Commencement Ceremony. The ceremony, which is already a tradition at numerous universities across the country, honors graduating members of the University’s LGBTQ+ community and celebrates their accomplishments. Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Andrew McDonald, Connecticut Office of Early Childhood Commissioner Beth Bye, and U.S. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro spoke at this year’s ceremony, which will continue to be a University tradition moving forward.

Looking Ahead

So, what’s in store for 2021-2022? Expect the return of the JEDIs (pun intended), including new members who will be interviewed and selected over the coming weeks. All will be asked to propose new ideas and put them into action. They will also be actively engaging with students, faculty, and staff of each of the five colleges and schools.

Meanwhile, I will continue meeting with various student leaders and recognized student organizations. And, as usual, I will be asking to hear both their concerns and ideas as they relate to DEI at the University and the surrounding Greater West Haven and New Haven community. Being a student leader not too long ago, I understand the importance of actively listening to the student voice.

Faculty and staff, I’ve got some plans for you all as well. I’m excited to be seeing more in-person events (though I’m sure many will be hybrid) and new opportunities to learn about fostering inclusive learning environments. I am thankful to have had your support over the past year. So many have reached out with ideas and have even offered to take items off my heavy plate. Also, I am always grateful to have the continued support of the Myatt Center, Student Affairs, IDEA Council, and Provost’s Office in the development of upcoming innovative DEI-focused workshops and events.

Overall, I believe the following quote from the author Jacqueline Woodson summarizes my experiences, thus far, accurately: “Diversity is about all of us and about us having to figure out how to walk through this world together.”

To another exciting year ahead.

Alvin Tran, Sc.D., MPH, is an assistant professor of public health; assistant provost for diversity, equity, and inclusion; director of the Univeristy’s Bachelor of Science in Public Health program; and interim director of the University’s Master of Public Health program.