June 9, 2023
overcast clouds Clouds 61 °F

All in: Decker’s Associate Dean of DEI immerses herself in projects on and off campus

Sharon Bryant is associate dean of diversity, equity and inclusion at Decker College of Nursing and Health Sciences. She is also associate director of the Harriett Tubman Center for Freedom and Equity and is pictured at the Tubman Center. Sharon Bryant is associate dean of diversity, equity and inclusion at Decker College of Nursing and Health Sciences. She is also associate director of the Harriett Tubman Center for Freedom and Equity and is pictured at the Tubman Center.
Sharon Bryant is associate dean of diversity, equity and inclusion at Decker College of Nursing and Health Sciences. She is also associate director of the Harriett Tubman Center for Freedom and Equity and is pictured at the Tubman Center. Image Credit: Jonathan Cohen.

Sharon Bryant is associate dean of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) at Binghamton University’s Decker College of Nursing and Health Sciences, but her involvement in diversity-related projects, programs and initiatives goes well beyond the college, the campus and the community.

Bryant joined Binghamton University in 1994 as an assistant professor and director of undergraduate programs in the Africana Studies Department of Harpur College of Arts and Sciences. In 1998, she moved to Binghamton’s Decker School of Nursing (now expanded and renamed Decker College of Nursing and Health Sciences), which was a better fit for her focus as a medical sociologist.

In 2019 she was appointed director of DEI at Decker College; in 2022 she was promoted to associate dean of DEI. Bryant also teaches in the college’s public health and nursing divisions.

Expanding her knowledge of DEI

When she became director of DEI, one of Bryant’s key goals was gaining certification in diversity, equity and inclusion.

“I had some knowledge from my own lived experience as a woman of color who has benefited from many affirmative action programs and I had experience from some of the programs I’ve directed myself; however, I didn’t have a wider knowledge of DEI and all the processes and strategies that can be used,” she said.

Prior to the pandemic, Bryant completed courses through Cornell University’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Certificate program, but budgetary constraints following COVID made that unsustainable. So, when the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) created a DEI Leadership Institute in 2021, Bryant was among the first cohort in the six-month, Zoom-based program.

“The AACN brought some of the most amazing DEI professionals to us, and it was such an amazing experience learning alongside and working with colleagues all across the country,” Bryant said.

One of the projects currently on Bryant’s to-do list is based on her final project from the institute: She intends to build a Decker College DEI dashboard to track the college’s progress toward creating a culture of belonging for all its constituents.

“We talk about what our DEI goals are, but I don’t think we do a good job of displaying information so people can see where we are in the process,” Bryant explained. “We can do better.”

Increasing student diversity

Another of Bryant’s early goals is finally reaching fruition this fall — the implementation of a holistic admission process for the college’s intra-University transfer students. These are students who are in enrolled in another school at Binghamton, but want to transfer into Decker’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing program. The IUT application process is the only one Decker College has complete control over, since first-year and transfer applicants for the undergraduate nursing program go through the University’s Undergraduate Admissions Office.

“The goal of holistic admissions is to create a more diverse student body through three processes — experiences, attributes and metrics,” Bryant said.

A group of Decker faculty and staff, including Bryant, were trained by the AACN on holistic admissions in 2018. She then worked with Decker’s Undergraduate Admissions and Academic Standards Committee to develop the IUT holistic admission process. After a pause due to COVID, it gained approval from Decker’s Faculty Council.

Students entering in fall 2023 will be the first students admitted through the new process, which now gives equal consideration to an applicant’s experiences and attributes, rather than solely focusing on traditional academic measures such as test scores and GPA. Applicants provide information about previous healthcare experience (formal and informal) and write three short (250-word) essays designed to elicit information about their leadership, persistence and empathy. This additional information is reviewed by a team of Decker faculty and advisors to ensure inter-rater reliability, according to Bryant.

Connecting with her creative side

In December 2022, Bryant collaborated with The Rockwell Museum in Corning, N.Y., on its Artists as Activists Audio Tour. Bryant narrates two “stops” on the tour: Landscape with Cows, a painting by 19th-century American artist Susan Waters, and Seated Mother and Child, a bronze sculpture by 20th-century African American sculptor and graphic artist Elizabeth Catlett.

“I first learned about Elizabeth Catlett when I was an undergraduate at Howard University. Her Seated Mother and Child speaks to me as a mother of an African American son who is a teenager,” said Bryant, who is also a poet and had previously composed a poem about another work in the Rockwell collection (not featured on the audio tour), William Aiken Walker’s Cotton Picker.

Bryant’s collaboration with the museum is continuing this semester with a new exhibit featuring American contemporary artist Devan Shimoyama, which runs through May 14. She is narrating Untitled (For Tamir), a swing set sculpture that mourns the death of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who was killed by a police officer in Cleveland in 2014.

The killing of Black youths is a subject Bryant has addressed in poetry she wrote for her son, including “Bookended by Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown and Countless Others Who are Unnamed” and “Ode to My Son.” The latter will be included with the narration of Shimoyama’s sculpture.

Improving educational opportunities for kids and young adults

Bryant is co-director of Binghamton University’s Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP), which provides outreach, education and resources to middle and high school students who are economically disadvantaged or historically underrepresented minorities to increase their readiness for post-secondary education in STEM fields or licensed professions. She is also co-principal investigator for the Upward Bound Math-Science (UBMS) program, an academic-enrichment initiative for historically underrepresented and financially disadvantaged students at Binghamton High School. Bryant would like to bring youth from these groups to the Shimoyama exhibit, potentially in collaboration with similar groups in the region, and also with a creative project component such as writing poetry or lyrics.

STEP is currently working with Watson College’s Ning Zhou, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, to teach students about engineering principles using the Minecraft computer game. (BingUNews will feature this collaboration in an upcoming article.)

In addition, STEP partners with the Roberson Museum and Science Center in Binghamton to hold spring and summer camps that culminate in student presentations of scientific projects and experiments. The group also has a robotics team that regularly places at or near the top in regional competitions.

“To see these young people so excited and captivated by the experiences we’ve been able to provide them, it’s really what drives me to continue to do this work,” Bryant said. “This program is doing just what it’s supposed to do — tap into students who have a passion for science, technology and engineering and move them along their educational journey.”

Binghamton also has a Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP), which Bryant has led since 1998. This program provides resources and opportunities for Binghamton students from historically underrepresented minority groups and those who are financially disadvantaged, with the goal of preparing them for careers in STEM- or health-related fields or licensed professions. One of CSTEP’s key initiatives is its summer research program, which funds projects for 15 students. Bryant said students often leverage these experiences to help with their graduate school applications.

Advancing justice and equity across campus

Bryant is associate director of the University’s Harriet Tubman Center for Freedom and Equity, which opened in 2019. In addition to fundraising, current projects include commissioning a sculpture of Tubman to be erected at the University Downtown Center in Binghamton. A call for interested artists yielded more than 40 names, including some very well-known sculptors, Bryant said. The group will narrow this number and then the (three to five) finalists will receive funds to create a prototype. After reviewing the prototypes, the team (with input from the University and greater Binghamton community) will select a sculptor.

The center is also working on a Freedom Trail project, identifying more than a dozen sites in downtown Binghamton that were part of the Underground Railroad or other abolitionist efforts. In conjunction with the city of Binghamton, the plan is to install signage identifying the sites and providing information about the location’s significance. It’s Bryant’s desire to have more than signage; she envisions presenting QR codes that link to re-enactments, music, poetry or other visuals that enhance the experience.

Bryant is also involved in an artwork diversity assessment project that stems from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a joint effort of the Tubman Center and the Office of the University President. Last fall, Bryant and undergraduate student Bailey Fahnestock developed a rubric to evaluate artwork installed in public areas across the University’s three campuses (spaces such as lobbies, hallways, classrooms and public offices), then began documenting and photographing the art.

“We’re not just looking at racial diversity of those depicted in the artwork, we’re also looking at size diversity and visible disabilities, so it’s a wide examination of diversity,” Bryant said. “We’re examining if the actions of the people depicted in the art are enforcing racial stereotypes and if the art could be considered offensive.”

Once the artwork has been catalogued and photographed, Bryant’s team intends to present the images to several groups to gain greater perspective on what others see in the art. That information will then be compiled and used to inform the selection of new artwork.

Collaborating with others

Additional DEI-related projects that Bryant leads or participates in include the following:

  • In fall 2022, Decker College was invited to participate in the AACN’s LAMP Culture and Climate Survey, one of the only health sciences schools selected. Students, faculty and staff from across the college were asked to complete the survey, the goal of which is to gain information that will help the college identify projects to help improve nursing programs to support a more diverse and inclusive culture and climate. Results from this survey will be made available to Decker College later this spring.
  • Bryant facilitates Decker College’s DEI Book Discussion Group, which she began in 2021, to bring faculty and staff together to discuss anti-racist texts. The group is currently reading The Viral Underclass: The Human Toll When Inequality and Disease Collide by Steven Thrasher, which looks at the role race, class, gender and sexuality play in determining who survives viral outbreaks.
  • Another initiative Bryant leads is Decker’s Diverse Alumni Board, a group of nursing alumni who provide input into Decker’s DEI efforts. One of the board’s ideas was to create a lecture series Bryant is calling “Life After Decker,” which begins later this month. The group also serves as a way for the college to remain connected with alumni.
  • Bryant is co-leader of the Big Sistas, a Tubman Center affinity group, which began during the pandemic as a way for faculty, staff and graduate students to connect. The group’s recent focus has been on self-care and what members can do to be healthy in the academic environment.