Audra French, assistant director of student affairs and diversity, equity and inclusion, School of Dentistry (center) talks with dental students Stephanie Saad-Naguib (left) and Garrett Wilson (right)
Audra French, assistant director of student affairs and diversity, equity and inclusion, School of Dentistry (center) talks with dental students Stephanie Saad-Naguib (left) and Garrett Wilson (right)

Jobs focused on diversity and equity: this is the latest validation for UofL’s intention to become a premier anti-racist university. The influx of new and renewed diversity-focused positions, funded by deans and other leaders throughout the organization, support the commitment, recently announced by President Neeli Bendapudi.

The dedicated personnel are working to create an inclusive culture among students, faculty and staff, while assisting in efforts to increase retention and graduation rates of underrepresented minority students. They’re aimed at recruiting minority faculty through incentive programs. They’re supporting and recognizing staff for contributions in advancing diversity. They’re auditing curricula to determine the need for revisions, along with new content and training. They’re creating better opportunities for minority and women-owned businesses to collaborate with the university. These are just some of the newly created job duties that will help move the needle for UofL’s anti-racism agenda.

“Over the years, many individuals and committees have worked to promote diversity, equity and inclusion, and it is important that we recognize those efforts. Now, as schools and units place importance on creating more full-time roles focused on these initiatives, we are building our potential to move anti-racism initiatives forward,” said V. Faye Jones, interim senior associate vice president for diversity and equity. 

John Chenault recently became associate professor and director of anti-racism initiatives in the School of Medicine’s Undergraduate Medical Education Office.

“The new positions and their agendas have been long overdue,” he said.

Having worked many years as a medical librarian and as a faculty member in the Pan-African studies department, Chenault brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the new position. His research has focused on the history of medicine and slavery in the United States, including medical experimentation, medical apartheid, health disparities and the role of medical practitioners and biomedical researchers in the invention of race.

Chenault gives the sobering reminder of the need for those in new job roles like himself to “manage expectations of our constituents and stakeholders as we are confronting and contesting long-standing problems and issues that have festered and metastasized due to centuries of societal neglect.”

Although the task is formidable, Chenault says he is hopeful UofL will demonstrate “the institutional courage and will power to make the changes we know are needed to become an anti-racist institution.”

Positions like Chenault’s advance the goal.

In the past year, the following individuals have filled new or revamped positions in support of expanded diversity and inclusion initiatives:

  • Brigitte Burpo, assistant dean for diversity, equity and inclusion, College of Education and Human Development
  • Valerie Clay, coordinator for diversity, equity and inclusion, J.B. Speed School of Engineering
  • Crystal Rae Coel, assistant dean for student affairs and diversity, Brandeis School of Law
  • Cherie Dawson-Edwards, associate dean for diversity, engagement, culture and climate, College of Arts & Sciences
  • Marc D. Ellis, assistant director of procurement diversity and inclusion, Office of Procurement Services
  • Audra French, assistant director of student affairs and diversity, equity and inclusion, School of Dentistry
  • Amalia Gamez, Latinx admissions counselor, Office of Admissions
  • Leondra Gully, director of Black and multicultural initiatives, Cultural Center
  • Anna Hinton, assistant dean for administration and diversity, equity and inclusion, School of Dentistry
  • Trinidad Jackson, assistant dean for culture and liberation, School of Public Health & Information Sciences
  • Emma Sterrett-Hong, associate dean of equity and inclusion, Kent School of Social Work
  • Nakia Strickland, associate director for diversity engagement, UofL Alumni Association
  • Morgan West, new student financial aid advisor, Office of Financial Affairs

In addition to these, the Cultural Center will soon fill a director position for Hispanic, Latino and Indigenous initiatives, and additional units also are considering new positions.

A history in the making

Even before the university’s dedicated focus on the Cardinals Against Racism Agenda (CARA), Bendapudi made a commitment at the start of her presidency in 2018 to make UofL’s leadership reflect the diversity of the student body and city it serves. A number of steps such as creating a core set of diversity principles, along with training hiring managers and requiring them to set accountable goals have led to change. Tactics like posting positions on job boards aimed at diverse candidates, and partnering with search firms purposeful on placing women and people of color for higher level careers also made a difference. Less than three years later, 47 percent of Bendapudi’s top team is female and 42 percent are people of color. A recent USA Today article heralded UofL as an example of how a proactive approach can result in more diverse leadership.  

Other areas, like the Graduate School, hired personnel prior to the launch of UofL’s Cardinals Against Racism Agenda (CARA). Tamekka Cornelius began in 2019 as director for graduate recruitment and diversity retention. Dwayne Compton has served a number of years in the School of Medicine as chief diversity officer and associate dean for community engagement and diversity. Diversity initiatives formally became part of Vicki Hines-Martin’s role in 2019.

Hines-Martin says although she has always concentrated on diversity throughout her career, her formal role now as associate dean for the School of Nursing’s Office of Community Engagement and Diversity Inclusion, has given her expanded opportunity. She shares her focus and scholarship through such efforts as developing new student programming to build on diversity, and initiatives for faculty collaboration.

“My next goal is to further support high school, pre-nursing and nursing students and faculty in building a cadre of those who share my passion for equity and justice in health care, and help the school become a center of excellence in this arena,” she said.

UofL transitioned in 2019 from the Office of the Vice Provost for Diversity, reporting to the provost, to the Office of Diversity and Equity, reporting to the president, as to ensure diversity was at the core of all UofL efforts. Initially, as the Office of Minority and Rural Affairs, focusing on students in the School of Medicine, this office was expanded and renamed the Health Sciences Center Office of Diversity and Inclusion in 2013 to support all stakeholders across the HSC campus. The offices, led by Jones, support 22 positions and work to expand curricula and learning experiences that prepare students to live and work in a diverse society, create a climate of inclusiveness through programs and activities and promote campus life that enhances diversity through knowledge and leadership.

The Commission on Diversity and Racial Equality (CODRE), established in 1998, has long served as the president’s policy advisor on topics of diversity and inclusion. This group also develops strategies and tactics in collaboration with the Commission on the Status of Women to improve learning and working environments at UofL. The Commissions serve as a resource to members of the university and promoting cultural values and diverse perspectives that characterize the United States. Most recently, CODRE had a significant role in developing and building out CARA tactics.

A number of new committees, too, are focused on the anti-racism agenda. The Staff Senate voted to create a permanent anti-racism committee with a seat on the executive committee. The Student Government Association also has created a diversity and inclusion committee, comprised of senate and compensated non-senate members.    

These efforts are just a beginning, says Jones, who also serves as associate vice president for health affairs/diversity initiatives and vice chair of inclusion excellence, Department of Pediatrics.

“As we move forward in intentionally integrating diversity, equity and inclusion through an anti-racism lens into all facets of the university, and develop clear metrics to show our progress, we can begin to identify and mitigate the barriers that keep underestimated populations from achieving their full potential,” Jones said.