The new Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is a beacon on the Hill.
The Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ODEI) at Kenyon is spearheading efforts to promote, nurture, and sustain a richly diverse and inclusive campus community.
The office was created by President Sean Decatur in August and brings an authoritative faculty presence into play with practiced administrators who will advise the president on issues and policies; promote the inclusion of students, faculty, and staff who represent cross-cultural economic and ethnic backgrounds; and help develop and support education and social programs. The ODEI expands on the mission and responsibilities of what was the Office of Multicultural Affairs.
Associate Professor of English Ivonne García gained the role of associate provost for diversity, equity, and inclusion, and Associate Dean of Students Chris Kennerly became director of the ODEI. Zahida Sherman Ewoodzie and Monique Jernigan are assistant directors.
“The best future for Kenyon and the liberal arts will be built on initiatives and programs that open doors and create opportunities,” Decatur said. “Kenyon’s success will be measured by how well we welcome and teach students of all backgrounds, first-generation students, and those at all economic levels.”
ODEI team members remain in their home in Academic and Student Affairs divisions but report to the president as directed. “Our goal is to build on and strengthen the cooperation among our faculty and our administration on these issues, and we intend to foster a community that appreciates and respects the talents and contributions of all of its members,” Decatur said.
James Keller, chair of the faculty and associate professor of chemistry, is enthused about the new office and attributed its emergence to the recognition of the importance of equity issues across the campus. “What is clear to all who are concerned about diversity and inclusion on campus is that our efforts to date have been fragmented,” Keller said. “This is a significant step toward creating a campus where access and opportunity are universal.”
Among its responsibilities, the ODEI identifies and overcomes barriers to progress and success; oversees and strengthens the Kenyon Educational Enrichment Program, the REACH mentoring program, Diversity Advisory Council, and discrimination advisors; works closely with the Career Development Office and boosts the network of alumni mentors; and supports education efforts and programming, including the Martin Luther King Jr. Days of Dialogue, a curricular diversity summer seminar for faculty, and events focused on LGBTQ awareness and ethnic heritage.
The many student clubs and organizations and their programs that already represent the range of diversity at Kenyon can expect more support and coordination from the College.
“The new office will be central to initiating new collaborations and strengthening existing partnerships to accomplish the goals set forth by President Decatur,” Kennerly said. Reconfigured responsibilities allow Kennerly to bring more focus to “diversity awareness and education, access and support for first-generation students, LGBTQ awareness and support, and recruitment and retention of students of a lower socio-economic status.”
The new office is historic in nature, García said. “This is an opportunity for national leadership,” she added. “The president is taking Kenyon in the right direction. This is his vision, and it’s moving with and ahead of the times. I am honored and thrilled to be asked to help.
“The faculty at Kenyon drives a lot of the programming, and we want to have a close relationship between the faculty and Student Affairs. This office is going to create a synergy between the two. We all shine when we work together.”
Dean of Students Henry “Hank” Toutain believes the new office will become “an institutional champion for the values that we profess.”