A new Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ODEI) at Kenyon will spearhead efforts to promote, nurture and sustain a richly diverse and inclusive campus community.
The office was created by President Sean Decatur 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 takes on the mission, responsibilities and staff of the Office of Multicultural Affairs.
Decatur announced that Associate Professor of English Ivonne García adds the role of associate provost for diversity, equity, and inclusion and that Associate Dean of Students A. Chris Kennerly becomes director of the ODEI. Zahida Sherman Ewoodzie and Monique Jernigan are assistant directors of the new office.
“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 academic and student affairs divisions but will 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.
Jamie Keller, chair of the faculty and associate professor of chemistry, is enthused about the new office, attributing its emergence to the recognition of the importance of equity issues across 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. “The goals of recruitment and retention of a diverse faculty and student body and engagement of the entire Kenyon community require a more centralized approach. I believe that this is a significant step toward creating a campus where access and opportunity are universal.”
Among its responsibilities, the ODEI will identify and overcome barriers to progress and success; oversee and strengthen the Kenyon Educational Enrichment Program, the REACH mentoring program, Diversity Advisory Council and Discrimination Advisors; work closely with the Career Development Office and boost the network of alumni mentors; support education efforts and programming, including, for example, the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Dialogue, a faculty curricular diversity summer seminar and events focused on LGBTQ awareness and ethnic heritage.
The many student clubs and organizations 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 will 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.”
García was granted a release of one course for each semester for this academic year and described the development of the new office as historic. “This is an opportunity for national leadership,” she said. “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.
“We are thinking about programs and thinking about how to bring together efforts that are now separate. This year, we are going to have more flexibility and more resources for the programming already on the calendar so we can make it better and seek more partners. This gives us a structure for a lot of activities,” García said. “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.” The ODEI will build on the work of the Diversity Advisory Council, which drove initiatives to equalize student housing opportunities and internship support, he said.
Toutain will oversee the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities and student withdrawal and re-admission, tasks previously handled by Kennerly. Kennerly will continue to guide the Board of Spiritual and Religious Life and will remain the sophomore class advisor. Lorie Shults will provide administrative support for the new office.