Roger Isom ’16 gets involved as an advocate for DEI at McDaniel
When presented with the opportunity to join a DEI Advisory Committee at McDaniel, Roger Isom '16 realized it was a unique chance to support the current students as an alum by providing his perspective on the future of the college. From his involvement, the DEI Dashboard was born. The DEI Dashboard will serve as a monitoring tool for ongoing projects related to matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion at McDaniel.
When Roger Isom ’16 graduated from McDaniel, he didn’t know that alumni could stay involved with the college in ways beyond donating money. “I didn’t know there was a group of people waiting with open arms for me to join and begin shaping the future of the college,” says Isom.
It wasn’t until he was given the opportunity to join McDaniel’s DEI Advisory Group in 2020 that he realized he could support his alma mater’s current and future Black students in a more active way.
“I decided to get involved because I wanted to be an active alumni presence for students. I’m happy to be a part of the legacy of Black alumni at McDaniel, and I wanted to pay it forward to current students, since it’s an impressionable time in their lives,” Isom says. “I want them to know that you’ve got Black alumni who are here rooting for y’all.”
Isom recalls meeting Victor McTeer ’69 — one of the college’s first African American graduates — when he was an undergraduate student.
“Victor McTeer had a really positive imprint on why I think it’s important to give back as an alum. He was one of the first alums I met at McDaniel, and he invited Black student leaders to a brunch,” Isom says. He recalls how McTeer’s sincere interest in the wellbeing and development of Black students, and his willingness to listen to their experiences and concerns, made them feel uniquely seen and appreciated. Isom remembers a sense of ease in confiding with McTeer, who never questioned their right to expression or to seek to better the Black student experience on campus. “The gesture of extending an active ear is immeasurable.”
Following the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd in 2020, McDaniel formed DEI Leadership Committees and renewed its commitment to becoming an anti-racist liberal arts college. Then-president Roger N. Casey affirmed this goal and began seeking community members to participate in dedicated committees.
“A threat to any of us is a threat to the freedoms of us all. The fundamental principles of a liberal education and the fundamental First Principles guiding the McDaniel community run absolutely counter to those of racial injustice and discrimination,” Casey said in a May 2020 statement. “Our values demand that we call out such injustices, whether they occur in our backyard or in Minnesota, Georgia, or New York.”
“I decided to get involved because I wanted to be an active alumni presence for students. I’m happy to be a part of the legacy of Black alumni at McDaniel, and I wanted to pay it forward to current students, since it’s an impressionable time in their lives.” — Roger Isom '16
Although at the time Isom was pursuing graduate studies and a career in public health, he knew that his perspective as an alum could be used to advocate for younger generations, much like McTeer did for him.
Over the next two years, Isom and other alumni, faculty, and staff members dedicated their time to planning an anti-racist action agenda and developing related projects. Each committee amplified diverse perspectives from across the campus community and their input was integral to the planning process.
One such project was the DEI Dashboard, which Isom played a key role in conceiving. “I believe that evaluation should be at the forefront and not the afterthought,” he says. “The function of the dashboard was something I could give perspective on as an alum who was looking for accountability and transparency.”
The DEI Dashboard serves as a monitoring tool for ongoing projects related to matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion at McDaniel. Its record-keeping is two-fold: it provides clarity on DEI initiatives and data for the community, and it improves efficiency by tracking projects and reducing redundant proposals. Isom compares the dashboard to the course registration process, in which you can’t move forward if you have an outstanding balance, so “you want to make sure that everything is cleared.”
McDaniel prioritized inclusivity when developing the dashboard, and administration collaborated closely with alumni members like Isom. “I’m really optimistic, and I hope the dashboard is a model for creating something with all the stakeholders involved and giving an equitable voice to each of them,” says Isom. “This effort was an initiative that received support and was given the freedom to be conducted the way I think this work should be done, which is hand in hand: McDaniel liaisons, alums, and others working together to create something.”
The dashboard currently includes progress status and action items for critical issues like increasing the retention of BIPOC faculty, staff, and students and fully integrating Black Lives Matter into the college’s brand. An additional feature displays student demographic data.
“The level of intensity that people use to speak about racism and justice all depends on the tone leadership sets. I’m happy that I’m able to look back and say, ‘I came to administration with this idea for a dashboard, it was picked up, and it was completed,’” Isom says. “A lot of times in DEI work, you don’t get to that phase of completion; you get to planning what you’re going to do and maybe a sliver of implementation, but that’s it.
“I’m very glad to see this outcome, but I’m mindful that McDaniel College’s commitment to Black students, faculty, and staff is not done,” Isom says. “This is a step in the right direction to becoming an anti-racist liberal arts college.”