Polk State College’s Office of Equity and Diversity is adding “inclusion” to its name to recognize the collaborative partnerships and environment that exist within the institution that foster diversity and promote cultural awareness for students, faculty, staff, and the greater community.
The name change comes 14 years after the Office of Equity and Diversity was founded to create educational and training experiences that expand cultural awareness on Polk State’s campuses and centers. Since 2004, the Office of Equity and Diversity has grown to host two professional development leadership programs – Exceptional Leaders with Innovative Talents and Excellence (ELITE) and the Emerging Leaders Professional Series (ELPS) – and more than a dozen cultural awareness events each year that have proven successful in fostering an environment of inclusiveness at the College.
In addition to providing support for students and employees, the office maintains compliance with state and federal laws related to Title IX and civil rights and works closely with the Human Resources Department to ensure an equitable and seamless hiring process for College employees.
“Inclusion is fully embraced by the College, and I am thrilled to see it reflected in the name of our office that ensures everyone at Polk State is included and valued.”
— Polk State President Angela Garcia Falconetti
“Inclusion is fully embraced by the College, and I am thrilled to see it reflected in the name of our office that ensures everyone at Polk State is included and valued,” Polk State President Angela Garcia Falconetti said. “The Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion is a prime example of the good we can do for our students, faculty, staff, and community when we work together toward our goals.”
Val Baker, Director of the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, cited an analogy by diversity and inclusion expert Verna Myers when describing the importance of the name change: “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.”
“It makes sense for us to add ‘inclusion’ because it is a mindset that we embrace at Polk State – everyone has value, everyone matters, and everyone is working together toward the ultimate goal of student success,” Baker explained. “We know that Polk State is diverse, and we ensure that there is equity within our institution. ‘Inclusion’ is the third part of the equation.”
For Baker, it’s about the inclusive environment Polk State enjoys thanks to her office’s hard work and strong partnerships. With only three employees, the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion works diligently with other departments and outside organizations to make opportunities possible.
“We could not continue to be a forward-thinking, trendsetting institution without working together and thinking outside of the box,” Baker said. “That’s what inclusion is all about.”
The Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion partners with a handful of Polk State organizations, including the Student Activities and Leadership Office (SALO), Student Government Association (SGA), Polk State College Foundation, Office of Disability Services, S.I.S.T.E.R. Club, Voices of the People, Free To Be Me, and the Honors Program.
Most recently, the Office has partnered with The Arts to bring the music and songs of legendary singer and songwriter Sam Cooke through the performance of Bradd Marquis, as well as with the Library to launch the Human Library – an event that will allow library-goers to check out individuals, rather than books, who are experts in different subject areas.
“We could not continue to be a forward-thinking, trendsetting institution without working together and thinking outside of the box. That’s what inclusion is all about.”
— Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Director Valparisa Baker
Polk State’s Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion also partners with various outside organizations to expand opportunities for Polk State students and employees as well as members of the greater community. Partners have included the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), the State of Florida Office of Equity and Civil Rights Compliance, the National Council on Black American Affairs (NCBAA), the Polk County Chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Girls, Inc. of Lakeland, the Florence Villa Community Development Corporation, the First Missionary Baptist Church of Winter Haven, Bartow Community Relations Committee, Community Employment Opportunities Partners, the Board of County Commissioners’ Office of Supplier Diversity, and Tinsley Family Concessions, Inc.
“There is always an educational component in everything we do, and we are excited to expand our partnerships, create new opportunities, and continue growing,” Baker said. “The addition of ‘inclusion’ to our name signifies that we are spreading our wings and soaring to new heights.”