Two milestones that reflect St. John’s strong commitment to enhancing an inclusive campus community were achieved in the fall with the grand openings of the Inclusivity Resource Center (IRC) and the Academic Center for Equity and Inclusion (ACEI). Both centers are part of a comprehensive plan Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., President of St. John’s, launched in 2016 to institutionalize practices of inclusivity across the University.
Formed by Dr. Gempesaw two years ago, the St. John’s University Task Force for Diversity and Inclusion—a group of students, faculty, administrators, and senior leadership at St. John’s—made several recommendations which included “ensuring that diversity, equity, and inclusivity are incorporated into the curricula” and that “a more inclusive campus climate is encouraged.” The creation of the new spaces marked the realization of these significant goals.
A standing-room-only crowd of students, faculty, administrators, staff, and alumni gathered on September 28 for a Mass, dedication, and open house held to celebrate the opening of the IRC. The center is housed in a newly renovated space inside Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall on the Queens, NY, campus.
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 provides social justice training for students, hosts equity- and inclusion-themed workshops, and through a collaboration with the Center for Counseling and Consultation, offers the services of a mental health counselor for individual counseling and group programming.
In welcoming remarks made during the IRC event, Dr. Gempesaw said, “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.”
Attendees also heard from Nada M. Llewellyn, Esq., Chief Diversity Officer, Associate Vice President for Human Resources, and Deputy General Counsel. “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,” said Ms. Llewellyn, who directs the recently established Office of Equity and Inclusion, which includes the IRC and the ACEI.
“But I know that last year at this time, the Inclusivity Resource Center had yet to be conceived,” Ms. Llewellyn continued, “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.”
On October 8, another ebullient gathering of members of the University community convened in the living room of the D’Angelo Center for a grand opening ceremony, as well as the unveiling of a new logo, for the ACEI. The new center is located in St. Augustine Hall, which is also on the University’s Queens campus.
The ACEI is a faculty-led initiative that was created to address the personal and professional needs of the St. John’s faculty as they relate to equity and inclusion. The academic center will serve as a central resource to support faculty as they continue to develop high-quality curricula that meet the needs of a diverse student population and promote inclusive excellence and equity in education.
In addressing the gathering at the ACEI opening, Manouchkathe Cassagnol, Pharm.D., ACEI Director and Associate Clinical Professor, College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, said, “This is an exciting day, and a day that arrives after many years of struggle and advocating for change.”
Dr. Cassagnol credited the activism of faculty and students who “called on St. John’s to take meaningful steps toward transforming the culture and climate of our community,” and thanked University leaders, including the President and Simon G. Møller, Ph.D., Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, for “their support and commitment to seeing this transformation occur.”