A memorable milestone in St. John’s initiative to make the campus community even more inclusive was achieved with the recent grand opening of the Inclusivity Resource Center (IRC).
A standing-room-only crowd of members of the University community, including students, faculty, administrators, staff, and alumni, gathered on September 28 for a Mass, dedication, and open house held in celebration of the IRC. The center is located in Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall, in a renovated space that formerly housed the Office of Global Studies.
“Today, we celebrate that we are beginning—that we are starting to take the steps and create the structures needed so that St. John’s fulfills its charge to truly respect the rights and dignity of every person,” said Nada M. Llewellyn, Esq., Chief Diversity Officer, Associate Vice President for Human Resources, and Deputy General Counsel, during remarks made at the dedication ceremony.
“There are times when the road to a more equitable and inclusive University seems very long, the gap between where we are and where we need to be difficult to bridge,” added Ms. Llewellyn, who directs the recently established Office of Equity and Inclusion, of which the center is a part. “But I know that last year at this time, the Inclusivity Resource Center had yet to be conceived, and there are resources and programming in place today that did not exist three months ago. This is due to the hard work of many people on our equity and inclusion initiative, and the support provided by our President and the Board of Trustees.”
In his welcoming remarks, Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., President of St. John’s University, told the ebullient gathering, “A great University is never content with the way things are—it must always seek to be better. One of the ways we want to improve is to make St. John’s a more welcoming place for all. We will become an even better University and provide more opportunities for our students as we enhance our mission of equity and inclusion at every level of our institution.”
Dr. Gempesaw also cautioned that the successful realization of St. John’s equity and inclusion efforts rests with the entire University community. “A physical space such as the Inclusivity Resource Center is not enough without the belief and commitment from all of us to advocate and work hard for equity and inclusion in everything we do.”
“We recognize that real equity, diversity, and inclusion is a very huge challenge, but it also represents a tremendous opportunity,” he added.
“While the challenge is great, our will to succeed is greater if we all work together.”
The Inclusivity Resource Center is part of a comprehensive plan Dr. Gempesaw launched in fall 2016 in response to students and faculty members who encouraged the University to expand efforts to further ensure the campus was welcoming to all members of its richly diverse community.
The IRC was created to provide students with resources to assist in authentic and informed peer dialogue on topics of equity and inclusion. The center will provide social justice training for students, host equity- and inclusion-themed workshops, and through a collaboration with the Center for Counseling and Consultation, offer the services of a mental health counselor for individual counseling and group programming.
Two years ago, Dr. Gempesaw formed the St. John’s University Task Force for Diversity and Inclusion that led to organizational changes to complement the University’s diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. The task force made recommendations to ensure training for staff and administrators, as well as professional development opportunities for faculty, are sufficiently robust; that faculty, staff and administrators from historically underrepresented groups are recruited and retained; that diversity, equity, and inclusivity are incorporated into the curricula; and that a more inclusive campus climate is encouraged.
The reorganization led to the establishment last summer of the Office of Equity and Inclusion, which Ms. Llewellyn said was created to establish a framework for some of St. John’s more significant initiatives for equity and inclusion. In addition to the IRC, the office encompasses the Office of Multicultural Affairs and other recently established entities: the Equity and Inclusion Council, the Respond and Partner to Engage our Community Team (RESPECT), and the Academic Center for Equity and Inclusion (ACEI). The grand opening for the ACEI is scheduled for October 8.
Several students who attended the IRC grand opening expressed optimism about the University’s commitment to further cultivating an inclusive campus climate. “I am more than confident that this is a top priority now for the University,” said Atemkeng N. Tazi, President of Student Government, Inc., and a senior majoring in Health and Human Services in the College of Professional Studies. She was part of a larger group of student activists who channeled student concerns and worked with senior leadership in establishing the center.
“Seeing this come about is very exciting. This is a big step for the University and I view this as the beginning of new life,” said junior Marvelous Abraham, a Marketing major in The Peter J. Tobin College of Business who also participated in the development of the center. “This is a place where all students can be fulfilled, be themselves, and be with each other.”
During the Mass that preceded the festivities, a homily delivered by Joseph E. Oliva, Esq. ’91CBA, ’94L, Vice President for Administration, Secretary, and General Counsel, underscored the thriving diversity of the University community as one of the institution’s fundamental core strengths. “It matters that we are different,” said Mr. Oliva, who is ordained as a permanent deacon in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, NY.