Q&A with Dr. Ross McClain, Delta College’s Chief Officer of Culture, Belonging & Community Building

Delta College appointed Dr. Pamela Ross McClain as its first Chief Officer of Culture, Belonging and Community Building. She is tasked with developing a center that supports transformational changing with belonging, equality, diversity, and inclusion at its core.

Prior to joining Delta on Aug. 1, Ross McClain served as a tenured professor of education for Saginaw Valley State University and University of Michigan Flint.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in English and Afro-American and African Studies from the University of Michigan; a master’s degree in Afro-American Studies from Cornell University; a doctorate from Michigan State University; and a secondary teaching certificate from Saginaw Valley State University.

QUESTION: You're not new to the area, but you are new to Delta College. What have you seen in your time there?

ANSWER: Delta College has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. As a child, I experienced field trips to Delta that allowed me to get an early glimpse of college life. As an undergraduate student, I was a guest student at Delta College which allowed me to fulfill one of my science requirements. I landed my first adjunct job at Delta College Ricker Center, which was an excellent novice teaching experience. In all of these encounters with Delta College, I experienced the collegiate culture to be welcoming and supportive. These positive experiences were confirmation that I wanted a career in higher education. 

Prior to taking my new position, I visited campus and the warm reception that I received by staff as I took a self-guided campus tour which solidified my decision that Delta College was an ideal place to pursue a career growth opportunity while doing work in Belonging, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (BEDI) that I value.

Q: Can you explain what Delta College wants to accomplish by focusing on Belonging, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion? 

A: Simply put, Delta College wants to make sure that we are achieving our mission which states:

Delta College serves our Great Lakes Bay Region by educating, enriching, and empowering our diverse community of learners to achieve their personal, professional and academic goals.

By focusing on Belonging, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (BEDI) we can assure that all students have a positive learning experience and address the opportunities gaps that exist amongst underrepresented student populations. Prioritizing BEDI improves the quality of institutional culture for all students.

Q: I've heard businesses and nonprofits talk about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, but “Belonging” is a new addition to the mix. How does that change the mission?

A: I am not sure that adding “belonging” changes the DEI mission but it does make what we presumed to be the outcomes of DEI more explicit. If you’re a person who likes formulas, one might surmise that D+E+I = B. In other words, when we assure that diversity is valued, equity is established, and inclusion is practiced, we have a better chance of assuring that belonging will be an outcome of our DEI efforts.

Q: Diversity, equity, and inclusion are hot topics now in many sectors. What makes this important in a community college environment?

A: DEI is important everywhere but in particular in the community college environment.  The word “unity” is centered in the words that make up community college. In order to create a community college environment that is unified, we must take care to assure that “all” student populations feel seen, valued, and served well. Community colleges populate the pipelines for the trades and professions. We must be committed to DEI in order to produce an increasingly diverse workforce.

Q: What steps are you taking to build Belonging, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at Delta College?

A: One big step that Delta College has taken is creating the Chief Officer of Culture, Belonging, and Community Building. In this position, I will work with colleagues to assure that the BEDI Framework is evident in all aspects of our college’s operations. 

Our work together will be guided by the strategic plan, and the BEDI Framework which focuses on institutional data regarding equity and completion. The BEDI Framework encompasses four interrelated foci – Students, Employees, Culture, and Bias. In each of these areas, we are tasked to collect and analyze data that will allow us to make data-informed decisions. For example, we’ll want to identify any disparities amongst students with regard to their course success, retention, and completions. We’ll want to be aware of employee hiring, retention, and advancement. Employees will also be encouraged to innovate while championing the goal of creating more equity. We will continue to monitor our culture to make sure that we have a positive climate and that our physical and aesthetic environment is welcoming. Finally, we will make sure that our college’s disciplinary action, police interactions, student disciplinary and academic integrity data do not reveal patterns that suggest bias may be at play. 

I cannot capture all that steps that we are taking at Delta College to build Belonging, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, but I can tell you that it is a concerted effort that permeates our entire learning community.

Q: How do you move the concepts of Belonging, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion outside the college and into the community?

A: We move the concepts of Belonging, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion outside the college and into the community by aggressively seeking to strengthen our community partnerships. We are uniquely situated in Great Lakes Bay Region which affords us the opportunity to draw upon a wealth of communal diversity. We envision this diversity to be a strength when it is supplemented with a commitment to equity, inclusion, and belonging. Our goal is to position ourselves to be a leader, support, and ally to communities who want to foster unity and draw strength from their diversity.

Q: What do you wish people understood about Belonging, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion?

A: The one thing that I wish people understood about Belonging, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (BEDI) is that it is not an agenda that aims to advantage historically marginalized groups at the expense of others. It is an effort to make our college culture better for everyone. There was time when there were no handicap-accessible buildings or designated parking, braille on signs, or family/unisex bathrooms. These oversights made it more difficult for some groups to experience full participation in higher education. When we leave out large segments of our populations, we limit the exchange of ideas and may miss out on some of the best thinking. I wish everyone understood that when we invest in BEDI, everyone wins.

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Read more articles by Kathy Roberts.

Kathy Roberts, a graduate of Central Michigan University, moved to Bay City in 1987 to start a career in the newspaper industry. She was a reporter and editor at the Bay City Times for 15 years before leaving to work at the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, Covenant HealthCare, and Ohno Design. In 2019, she returned to her storytelling roots as the Managing Editor of Route Bay City. When she’s not editing or writing stories, you can find her reading books, knitting, or visiting the bars of Bay County. You can reach Kathy at editor@RouteBayCity.com