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2021–2022 Annual Report

A Year of Impact 

Through curriculum innovation, campus and community engagement, and transdisciplinary research, the Kingfisher Institute is proud to help further Creighton’s mission. The Institute’s initiatives aim to enrich and expand the experience of the entire Creighton community and ultimately form agents of change.  

Letter From the Director: Tracy Neal Leavelle

One of the highlights of the year was working with Fr. Hendrickson and his office to host our 2022 commencement speaker, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Natalie Diaz. We wanted to identify a speaker with a link to Arizona as a way of acknowledging Creighton’s growing connections to Phoenix and the American Southwest. Diaz is an accomplished writer and a professor at Arizona State University. She speaks multiple languages, including Mojave, the indigenous language she grew up with in the lower Colorado River Valley of California. Diaz even went to the Final Four in college basketball and then played professionally overseas.  Natalie Diaz has presence, a kind of dynamic and creative force that comes through in her poetry and on the court as well. 

Her address to the graduates was quiet, and I mean that in two ways. She was soft-spoken and personal, speaking from handwritten notes in a little journal. It was approachable, like an invitation. More than that, however, her words required attention, some thought, a little time. We seem to be surrounded by words, drowning in language of ever-increasing volume (in both senses of the term), even as we seem to understand that we suffer from a language deficit. We do not give ourselves sufficient time to think or to listen. How do we speak eloquently and clearly about the last two years when it seems impossible to articulate a sense of time, the disturbance of the before and the after? How do we talk to people when we cannot agree? We need perspective, and that is what Natalie Diaz offered.

For the next academic year, the Kingfisher Institute will organize its activities around the concept of “Perspective.” One inspiration is our mission, which reads, “Transcendent perspectives for transcendent problems.” But it’s also prompted by a desperate need for something more meaningful and productive than mere opinions. Diaz spoke about being intentional with language, recognizing its power. She said, “I am a poet because I believe in beauty and all that can mean, and because I also believe that not everything must be made beautiful, nor can it be.” I cannot, myself, claim that the last two years have been beautiful—but, I have seen beauty. 

Diaz told our graduates that she asks herself and her students one question each day: “What is the language you need to live right now?” Just to pose a question like that is an act of radical communication. Diaz suggested that she responds to herself with a simple phrase, “of consequence,” meaning that she looks for the ways we must be alongside each other. Alongside allows room for difference and for love. 

So, join us as we seek perspective, together in community, on where we’ve been and where we want to go. Let us find the language we need to live right now, to be of consequence for ourselves and others. 

Mission and Vision 

Our Mission:

Transcendent Perspectives for Transcendent Problems

Our Vision:

Humanities for the 21st Century: Uniting Head, Heart and Hands


Antiracism, humane health, sustainable development

Campus and Community Engagement

Student at event smiling

In fall 2021, the Kingfisher Institute was presented with an unexpected but thrilling opportunity to send a student to take part in a conversation between Michelle Obama and college students across the U.S.

This promised to be not only an opportunity to shine a national spotlight on Creighton, but also to highlight students who have been historically underrepresented in higher education, especially first-generation students and students of color. Mrs. Obama’s memoir, Becoming, focuses on these themes, on persevering through the pressures of being “the first” and “the only” in many situations. The Kingfisher Institute gave away 100 copies of the book, mostly to undergraduate students, to help spread the positive message while creating excitement around the event.

In close partnership with the Creighton Intercultural Center and TRiO Student Support Services, we sought applications from Creighton undergraduate students to identify one who would travel to meet Mrs. Obama. Out of about 50 applications, one rose to the top because of her active commitment to making Creighton a more inclusive community and a well-stated personal connection to Mrs. Obama’s journey. Leilani Hung, College of Arts and Sciences sophomore and Creighton Students Union (CSU) executive vice president, represented Creighton at the event, which was produced and broadcast by BET. Nearly 300 members of the Creighton community watched the livestream of the event in November 2021.

Hung returned to Omaha energized to begin her term in CSU and prioritize efforts of equity, diversity and inclusion. She is working with the Kingfisher Institute and Creighton Intercultural Center to host a series of dialogues in fall 2022 called “At the Kitchen Table.” This builds on a metaphor that Mrs. Obama used that resonated with Hung, of creating a close support network who you might, figuratively, collect around the kitchen table for important conversations.

OCCJR people smiling in collage graphic

Continuing as a member of the Omaha Community Council for Racial Justice and Reconciliation, Institute staff helped organize several hybrid and virtual community meetings:

  • December 2021 Community Meeting: Facts and Myths about Critical Race Theory
  • January 2022 National Day of Racial Healing: Interest Convergence as a Tool for Racial Healing
  • March 2022 Community Meeting: Censorship and “Book Bans” in Education

Pictured above: National Day of Racial Healing panelists: Barry Thomas, BCT Consulting; Erika Kirby, PhD, professor of communications studies, A.F. Jacobson Chair in Communication, Creighton University; Nuriel Heckler, JD, PhD, assistant professor, School of Public Administration, University of Nebraska Omaha; and Janique Hayes, MPA, assistant director, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and Mission and Ministry, Creighton University.

In addition, the Council was presented with the opportunity to provide updated information for the National Register of Historic Places entry for the Douglas County Courthouse to include the 1919 mob lynching of Will Brown. The Council’s efforts have focused on recognizing victims of racial violence in the Omaha area, including a ceremony in 2019 installing a historical marker memorializing Brown at the courthouse.

Despite this historical event, only the physical architectural features are detailed in the original entry as rationale for the building’s historical significance. Charise Alexander Adams drafted additional documentation with help from a graduate student and faculty member at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Architecture and History Nebraska. The additional documentation was accepted by the Nebraska State Historic Preservation Board in September 2021. A mention of this effort appeared in the December 24, 2021, issue of the Omaha Star newspaper.

Hanna Attisha and her book What the Eyes Don't See

The Kingfisher Institute offers a variety of faculty and staff development opportunities throughout the year, including reading groups. In 2021, Dhitinut (DT) Ratnapradipa, PhD, professor and director of the Master of Public Health (MPH) program and Helen Chapple, PhD, RN, MA, MSN, from the Master of Bioethics program, co-facilitated a faculty/staff reading group focused on public health.

The group read Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha’s incredible tale of uncovering the Flint water crisis in What the Eyes Don’t See. Her story highlights the ways in which public health advocacy requires skills and habits linked to the humanities, such as critical thinking and consideration of local and broader historical contexts.

Hanna-Attisha gave a talk in November 2021 via Zoom with Creighton panelists:

  • Rasika Mukkamala, BS’22 (health administration and policy major, College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Fellow)
  • Echo Perlman, DNP, RN, assistant professor of nursing, Creighton University College of Nursing
  • Adam Sundberg, PhD, associate professor of history, Creighton University College of Arts and Sciences

The talk was co-sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Fellows Program, a program for top students in the College. Fellows in the program read What the Eyes Don’t See as their “summer read” and many attended the talk.

In addition to What the Eyes Don't See, a group also read Edwidge Danticat’s latest short story collection, Everything Inside. About 50 faculty, staff, alumni and students participated in a reading group this year.

Daniel Immerwahr and his book How to Hide an Empire

With Patrick Murray, PhD—the John C. Kenefick Faculty Chair in the Humanities and a professor of philosophy—the Kingfisher Institute co-sponsored a talk from Daniel Immerwahr, PhD, associate professor of history at Northwestern University, on March 31, 2022. Immerwahr expanded on his book, How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States, about the enduring realities of U.S. colonialism.

“Four cohorts of undergraduate students in Creighton’s Global Scholars Program had the privilege of hosting the author for dinner and conversation, during which the group conversed on an assortment of topics ranging from Dr. Immerwahr’s career path to his stance on TikTok and other pop culture phenomena. His quick wit continued in his lecture that evening, where he captivated the audience with a provocative account of U.S. history as it relates to U.S. territories, especially the oft-forgotten and violent U.S. presence in the Philippines. Global Scholars students reported that it was one of the most interesting and eye-opening speaking events they had heard at Creighton.”

– Lizzy Curran, Associate Director, Study Abroad and Special Global Programs, Global Engagement Office

Three panelists sharing at Health Humanities Lyceum.

The most recent health humanities lyceum, which brings together members of the Creighton community around issues relevant to professional and liberal arts education, was a panel and discussion on “Death, Dying and the Body.” Planned as a complement to the annual memorial service for donors who gave their bodies to health sciences education, the event on Monday, April 25, 2022, featured:

Lee Morrow, MD, CMO, LiveOn Nebraska, Professor of Medicine, School of Medicine

Erin Blankenship-Sefczek, PhD, Resident Assistant Professor, Departments of Cultural and Social Studies and Exercise Science and Pre-Health Professions

Chase Miller, M1 medical student

Cassie Papproth, M1 medical student

More than 30 faculty and students attended a lively conversation on what happens to bodies after death, the issues around human dissection in education, and how we talk about bodies in death.

Plans are underway to hold two more lyceum gatherings in the coming year.

Doctor checking health of patient

With partners from Arizona State University, the Kingfisher Institute submitted a proposal for a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The proposal outlines the project entitled “Humanities and Health Justice Pathways: Forming First-Generation Professionals.”

If funded, the program would create a first-year experience for first-generation undergraduate students to pursue a humanistic path to the health professions. This fills several gaps: engaging first-generation students with high-impact programming that will aid in their retention; extending the spirit of the School of Medicine’s medical humanities curriculum; integrating the humanities with healthcare education at the earliest stages of the student journey; and creating student cohorts in which ASU students are exposed to Creighton’s medical school and students at both campuses share their educational experiences.

In addition to the first-year experience, Creighton and ASU are working together to pilot a clinical humanities internship program as part of the pathway. The internships would integrate clinical experiences for students with critical reflection practices.

News about the grant will come in December 2022.

Creighton students studying outside

The Kingfisher Institute is working with members of the Health Humanities Consortium to conduct the most comprehensive survey to date of health and medical humanities programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Together, the research group, which includes representatives from Creighton, Case Western Reserve, Centre College, DePaul, D’Youville and Quinnipiac, is gathering information on everything from program resources and learning outcomes to student numbers and potential interest in accreditation.

Rapid expansion of programs makes this study especially timely. The project team will begin sharing the results of the survey in the next academic year.

The Health Humanities Consortium is the leading professional organization in the field of health humanities, promoting scholarship, education and practices that focus on the intersection of the arts and humanities, health, illness and healthcare.

Transdisciplinary Research

A key focus for the Kingfisher Institute, transdisciplinary research encourages the breaking down of barriers. Together, researchers at Creighton can advance ideas and make discoveries that change how we approach healthcare and other areas of impact.

Curriculum Innovation

Recent curriculum development supported by the Institute includes grants to amplify the Presidential Lecture Series on Race and coordination with the Interdisciplinary Leadership Program to develop their first course focused on diversity and social justice.

2021–2022 Campus Involvement

  • Tracy Leavelle serves on the Inclusive Excellence Advisory Council, Faculty Development Advisory Group, the Arizona State University/Creighton University Partnerships Advisory Committee and other university committees
  • Tracy Leavelle was inducted as one of two honorary members of the Creighton chapter of Alpha Sigma Nu, the Jesuit honor society, in March 2022
  • Program manager Charise Alexander Adams served on Creighton’s Committee on the Status of Women as secretary from fall 2020 to spring 2022
Leavelle and Carlson

Strategic Planning

We continue to refine our strategy to elevate and distinguish the Kingfisher Institute. Our advisory council has supplied excellent feedback, as have recent faculty and staff focus groups. Thank you to Mary Lee Brock, assistant professor and assistant director of the Negotiation and Conflict Resolution (NCR) Program, for so ably facilitating the focus groups. Feedback has emphasized:

  • The need for opportunities that encourage collaboration
  • The importance of accessibility and inclusion across campuses, programs and communities
  • Increasing influence and capacity for the Institute and its goals
  • Encouraging dialogue, while also moving beyond talking to doing