Delta College’s BEDI Services Division: Conceptualization, Innovation, and a Call to Action

Pamela Ross McClain and Nathaniel B. McClain
Innovation Showcase

Delta College exists as a microcosm of our larger society and is, therefore, impacted by historical inequities. Many sociocultural factors prevail at Delta College which predate the current student body, faculty, staff, and administration. Nonetheless, we cannot deny that we all contribute to the current health and vitality of our learning community. Grace Lee Boggs (Harewood & Keefer, 2009) wisely asserted that “you cannot change any society unless you take responsibility for it, unless you see yourself as belonging to it and responsible for changing it” (para. 60). We are committed to experiencing social justice at Delta College. Together, we can transform our institutional culture and cocreate a safe and welcoming environment where belonging, equity, diversity, and inclusion (BEDI) undergird our core values.

Mission, Vision, and Values Statement Guidance

Delta College President, Dr. Mike Gavin, openly expresses his conviction that community colleges have the capacity to eliminate the inequities in society through direct access to education coupled with teaching excellence. He is a social justice leader devoted to eliminating opportunity gaps for underserved students. Our recently revised vision statement declares our intention to be “the national leader in innovative community college education.” In order to achieve the college’s mission “to deliver and sustain an enriching education that empowers our diverse and inclusive community to achieve their personal, professional, and academic goals,” we must maximize employee and student potential by allowing every person to show up authentically. Under Gavin’s leadership, BEDI permeates the college.

Our newly formed shared governance system, the Council of Innovation, Belonging, and Equity (CIBE), was initiated in fall 2021 to ensure that our entire college can determine our path forward. CIBE is a diverse action-oriented group of change agents who work together to maintain the health of the institution. Each subcommittee applies BEDI principles to implement action plans that can improve community relations; bolster employee satisfaction; and expand student recruitment, enrollment, retention, and completion.

Creation of BEDI Services Division

On August 1, 2022, Dr. Pam Ross McClain joined the President’s Cabinet as the inaugural Chief Officer of Culture, Belonging, and Community Building. This position was created to provide social justice leadership and BEDI-inspired innovation. Under her leadership and Gavin’s direction, the BEDI Services Division was formed using a two-pronged approach: creating new BEDI positions and transferring positions from other divisions. The division is comprised of the Office of Culture, Belonging, and Community; BEDI Center; Education Opportunity Center; Student and Civic Engagement department; Possible Dream program; Career and Technical Education Special Populations office; and Veteran Services Center. The crosscutting theme that melds the division together is the prioritization of student engagement, enrichment, and success.

BEDI Framework

The BEDI Services Division’s goals are guided by the BEDI Framework, which is flexible so that it evolves along with us. The framework aligns with Delta’s mission, vision, and value statements and provides starting points that guide our work to continually dismantle barriers, eliminate opportunity gaps, and eradicate disparate outcomes.

The BEDI Framework is comprised of five domains: students, employees, culture, curriculum, and policies and practices. Each domain is monitored by analyzing reliable institutional data and scrutinizing institutional outcomes through multiple data collection techniques.

Students. We examine student data by monitoring enrollment patterns, course success, retention rates, and completion statistics. Our goal is to achieve enrollment that mirrors the demographics represented in the Great Lakes Bay Region. We utilize our early alert system to intervene if students need academic support or access to supplemental resources. Disaggregated retention rates are a critical indicator of how successfully we cultivate a sense of belonging for all students.

Employees. We require an explicit commitment to BEDI in our hiring practices, so all job postings and job descriptions reflect a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion. We review employee data to monitor retention rates, advancement opportunities, and accountability practices. Our employee evaluations factor in innovation and equity. We encourage constituency and affinity groups to increase belonging for employees and students.

Culture. We monitor our culture and climate by paying attention to our leadership diversity and shared governance structure. We administer perception surveys to students and employees to gather related data and conduct environmental scans of our physical and aesthetic spaces to make sure they are fully inclusive and reflect all the populations we serve.

Curriculum. We audit our curricular offerings to see if multicultural perspectives are represented. We review student learning outcomes to determine if there are patterns of academic inequities. Peer faculty members offer culturally responsive pedagogy training, inclusive teaching research and resources, and BEDI-related professional learning community opportunities where faculty share lessons learned from implementing new pedagogical techniques.

Policies and Practices. We critically analyze our policies and practices to ensure that they are aligned and fair. We inspect our institutional disciplinary data to monitor demographic disparities in student disciplinary actions, academic integrity infractions, and police interactions. This process allows us to make sure that underrepresented groups are not overrepresented in the data that captures punitive measures.

BEDI Services Division Goals

The BEDI Services Division has established five goals which directly align to each of the BEDI Framework domains. These goals hold us accountable for living our values while achieving measurable outcomes.

  • Goal 1: Collaborate across divisions to increase student retention and completion rates by 2 percent and narrow opportunity gaps.
  • Goal 2: Engage with hiring committees to discuss anti-bias measures that can be taken to support us in diversifying our employee demographics by constituency, level, and rank to reflect comparable percentages represented in the primary counties we serve.
  • Goal 3: Partner with the Human Resources department to provide new employee, Center of Success, and fall and/or winter Learning Days trainings that introduce the BEDI Framework and explain how BEDI principles can be applied to practice throughout the college.
  • Goal 4: Attend division meetings to discuss strategies to integrate multicultural perspectives into curricular offerings and increase faculty capacity to implement equitable and inclusive teaching practices that foster a sense of belonging.
  • Goal 5: Serve with CIBE to create and/or revise institutional policies, procedures, practices, and priorities that encourage equitable and inclusive treatment for all.

Academic Alliance Building

Delta College serves three unique counties comprised of diverse communities with varied needs. Systemic alliances are an essential strategy to achieve seamless matriculation across PreK-12 school systems, our community college, transfer programs at partnering colleges/universities, and/or lucrative careers. It is essential that our community-building efforts involve heavy engagement with the feeder communities in which our students reside. This is a daunting task, as it is challenging to forge equitable and authentic relationships across multiple counties. Nonetheless, this is a vital priority as we engage in internal BEDI work at Delta College and external BEDI work with our key stakeholders. Our lifelong investment in students requires the college to develop and sustain strategic alliances so that we are positioned to usher our students along their educational and career journeys.

Q&A With an Academic Ally

Dr. Nathanial B. McClain has decades of administrative and faculty leadership experience in one of Delta’s regional PreK-12 school systems as well as one of the college’s major transfer universities. In a November 2023 interview, he shared his insights on how to optimize Delta College’s investment in community building throughout our primary service area—Midland, Bay, and Saginaw Counties in the Great Lakes Bay region. The interview unfolded as follows (personal communication, N. B. McClain, November 11, 2023):

Q: Delta College is positioned to be a receiving and sending institution. What can the college do to prepare both secondary students and students who transfer from Delta to four-year institutions for academic rigor?

A: Reducing the number of students who experience “transfer shock” should be a major priority. Tobolowsky and Cox (2012) refer to the phenomenon of students’ grades declining after they have transferred to another educational setting as being transfer shock. Rigor is not the sole reason for this decline. Tobolowsky and Cox (2012) assert that, “the transfer student experience may be shaped by a variety of subtle, often hidden, institutional influences” (p. 408). Scholars like Britt and Hirt (1999) attribute some academic decline to new and transfer students feeling less of a sense of belonging on campus due to their age and personal issues that negatively impact academic performance.

Specialized academic supports for transfer students are necessary to assist with both the academic and social adjustments necessary to excel in community college and transfer universities. Therefore, Delta must examine the impact that multiple variables have on the success of transfer students and provide the appropriate academic counseling and related student support services (Baime & Baum, 2016). In addition, lobbying for more academic scholarship opportunities or tuition breaks for transfer students would demonstrate increased investment in students’ academic success across their educational journey.

Q: How can the BEDI Services Division improve the recruitment, retention, and completion of underserved student populations?

A: The BEDI Services Division should consult with the Marketing department to create a recruitment campaign that targets nontraditional outlets (faith-based organizations, barber shops, nonprofits, etc.). It is important to get the word out in the community about all that Delta has to offer.

Key BEDI Services Division personnel should work closely with Delta’s academic advisors and local high school counselors to ensure that students enrolling in its Early Middle College Program have the prerequisite knowledge, skills, and dispositions to be prepared for the rigor of Delta’s curriculum. This process begins as early as middle school.

BEDI personnel should guide underrepresented students toward culturally relevant curricula and faculty who can successfully engage with them through culturally relevant pedagogy. They should support underserved students along their journey by offering developmentally appropriate social and academic supports to enhance their acclimation to campus life (Walker & Okpala, 2017). They should also insist that students set the intention of persisting to degree completion.

Q: How can the BEDI Services Division create DEI networks/safe spaces for underserved student populations?

A: According to Nuñez and Yoshimi (2017), “to help students find a sense of belonging, offering access to supportive institutional agents is critical” (p. 185). The BEDI Services Division should consider developing an Intercultural Center, a Center for Gender and Sexuality, and an International Center to take a leading role in creating safe spaces for students to authentically engage in intercultural conversations. You might also encourage students to engage in research, coursework, and community activities that will have a social impact in the Great Lakes Bay Region.

Q: How can the voices of underserved students be amplified in discourse about how to increase a sense of belonging in higher education for underrepresented students?

A: The BEDI Services Division can sponsor a series of social justice leadership workshops and DEI-related symposiums, programs, and learning sessions that empower and educate students on how to become civically engaged. You must be dedicated to ensuring that students’ voices are heard regarding their DEI concerns. Most importantly, it’s critical for all students to have an opportunity to participate in peer-led affinity groups that can enhance their sense of belonging (Rankin et al., 2022). These groups can be based on race, gender identity, or disability status, but students may also elect to connect in intersectional groupings to convene around a shared interest. Whatever the case may be, having healthy relationships and a sense of connectedness are powerful ways to increase belonging and student success.

McClain provided invaluable insights that make it clear that we have an opportunity to dismantle silos that do not adequately align efforts to support success across the student journey. Building trust with community leaders, religious institutions, social service agencies, nonprofits, industry partners, families, and community-based organizations will take time, but these alliances are essential. Our BEDI Services Division is still in its infancy, which means we have a tremendous opportunity to grow our division strategically and judiciously and, most importantly, in a manner that is culturally responsive to the needs of the communities we serve.

Sustaining Our Commitment

The ways we choose to engage with one another have a direct impact on our institutional outcomes. If we are truly committed to assuring that Delta College provides an inclusive culture in which everyone can experience a sense of belonging, we must continuously delve into institutional data—qualitative and quantitative—to achieve our articulated mission, vision, and values statements.

Because we truly embody the BEDI values at Delta College, we have been able to focus on structural alignment of resources through the creation of the BEDI Services Division. We fully acknowledge that it will take the innovative efforts of faculty, staff, students, and community partners to enact and sustain a culture of belonging at Delta College. The work ahead will allow BEDI to become deeply rooted in our culture. The fruit of our labor will be increased employee satisfaction and, most importantly, improved student success.


Baime, D., & Baum, S. (2016). Community colleges: multiple missions, diverse student bodies, and a range of policy solutions. Urban Institute.

Britt, L. W., & Hirt, J. B. (1999, Spring) Student experiences and institutional practices affecting spring semester transfer students. NASPA Journal, 36(3), 198-209

Harewood, A. & Keefer, T. (2009, October 8). Revolution as a new beginning: An interview with Grace Lee Boggs. Upping the Anti: A Journal of Theory and Action, 1, 28.

Nuñez, A. M., & Yoshimi, J. (2017, April). A phenomenology of transfer: Students’ experiences at a receiving institution. Innovative Higher Education42(2), 173-187.

Rankin, J. C., Pearl, A. J., Jorre de St Jorre, T., McGrath, M. M., & Dyer, S., Sheriff, S., Armitage, R., Ruediger, K., Jere, A., Zafar, S., Sedres, S., & Chaudhary, D. (2022). Delving into institutional diversity messaging: A cross-institutional analysis of student and faculty interpretations of undergraduate experiences of equity, diversity, and inclusion in university websites. Teaching and Learning Inquiry, 10.

Tobolowsky, B. F., & Cox, B. E. (2012). Rationalizing neglect: An institutional response to transfer students. The Journal of Higher Education83(3), 389-410.

Walker, K. Y., & Okpala, C. (2017). Exploring community college students' transfer experiences and perceptions and what they believe administration can do to improve their experiences. The Journal of Continuing Higher Education65(1), pp. 35-44.

Pamela Ross McClain, Ph.D., is Chief Officer, Culture, Belonging, and Community Building, at Delta College in University Center, Michigan. Nathaniel B. McClain, Ed.D., is Assistant Professor, Education, at University of Michigan in Flint, Michigan.

Opinions expressed in Innovation Showcase are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.