A LONG HISTORY OF DIVERSITY AT NIU
It may seem like diversity has only played a role in the larger conversation in recent years. But, NIU has been pushing for diversity for over 50 years. It began in the 1970’s with “CHANCE,” an alternative admissions program that offers access to higher education for students who have had limited preparation and resources. The program, which just recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, has been widely successful by having over 15,000 alumni successfully employed in a variety of fields and disciplines.
At the forefront of NIU’s diversity efforts is Vernese Edghill-Walden, the school’s first Chief Diversity Officer (CDO). Under Edghill-Walden’s direction, NIU has developed action plans, strategic priorities, college equity teams, Title IX workshops, and a social justice education program to remove systematic barriers to higher education accessible to all.
“We know, as an institution, if we make education accessible to the most marginalized students that accessibility for all students is enhanced,” Bernoudy says. “Therefore, we continue to take steps to ensure we provide equity access to our students and remain committed to our marginalized populations.”
A SUPPORTIVE COMMUNITY
Part of being inclusive as a university is ensuring that students have a community they can fall back on. At NIU, students have a number of opportunities to connect, connect, engage, support and learn from and alongside one another.
“We have over 300 clubs and organizations, Greek organizations, alternative spring break service projects, Diversity and Cultural Resource Centers, campus Diversity Dialogues, and an annual community service program that engages over 80 student organizations in service projects called, NIU Cares Day,” Bernoudy says. “We engage students in a Conversation in Diversity and Equity program called CODE to provide them an opportunity to connect with another, have authentic conversation and address challenges related to diversity.”
Neal says having these outlets of support is important — especially for minorities.
“This helps us meet with other minorities and have a social group to be able to talk to about work, class, or even life,” he says. “It creates a safe space for students to feel comfortable talking to others.”
His own transition to NIU was made possible, he says, by having a strong community of support.
“My first thought of making the transition to NIU was that it would be rough because my family would not be there with me,” Neal says. “I quickly realized that I will become part of a new family with the great students and faculty I have met at NIU.”
A GOAL OF ‘DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION’
One of the main goals outlined by NIU President Lisa C. Freeman is to provide “diversity, equity, and inclusion.” That can be an overarching goal, but it’s one that influences decisions at nearly every level of business education — from how a school recruits and retains students to how it structures its programs, policies, and curricula. The goal of “diversity, equity, and inclusion” is even more important given the current divisive climate in the U.S.
It’s also one of the reasons why the school has created a “Freedom of Expression” policy that allows all voices, thoughts, ideas, and opinions to be equitably shared. The idea, Bernoudy says, is to foster a safe environment where all individuals can be heard and challenged.
“NIU recognizes its role in providing a campus community where different perspectives, understandings and opinions can be shared and a common ground reached and appreciated,” she says. “We consistently develop and employ academic and co-curricular programs that afford our students opportunities to learn from one another and provides marginalized populations equal access.”
For Neal, that multi-perspective aspect of business education has helped him to grow both personally and professionally.
“My experience at NIU helped me grow personally by showing me I can grow and explore the ‘unknown’ on my own,” he says. “Although I am big on family, NIU gave me the chance to branch off and start a new chapter in my life on my own. It taught me manage my time, be productive, and to always ask questions. Professionally, NIU has helped me by allowing me to meet people from different backgrounds. By doing so, it helped me become a more well-rounded individual, and develop skills to help me in my career.”
Part of that growth can also be attributed to the diversity found at NIU.
“This is why diversity is very important, because you would want to be around students who have been in your shoes before so you can go to them for advice, or even just to talk,” Neal says, “a school that is diverse could offer this to you, and much more.”
(SEE THE NEXT PAGE FOR A LIST OF U.S. MINORITY POPULATIONS AT ALL TOP B-SCHOOLS.)