Fostering equity, diversity and inclusion
In November 2021, Creighton President the Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, SJ, PhD, named Sarah Walker, PhD, vice president of the Division of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI). The Heider College of Business professor had been interim VP since March 2021. The division collaboratively leads the University in developing and deepening its commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Last fall, Walker helped direct a campuswide climate survey of students, faculty and staff to help determine what initiatives best foster a sense of inclusion and belonging at the University.
Walker also co-hosts, with Heider College of Business professor Todd Darnold, PhD, a new Creighton-produced EDI podcast, Threads of Equality, that features interviews and conversations on a national scale. The podcast is available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Google Play.
How would you define the terms equity, diversity and inclusion?
There is a simple analogy that diversity is being invited to the party, and inclusion is being invited to dance. Diversity is about differences — each person’s status — and today that goes beyond race to include gender, sexual orientation, pregnancy, age, disability and even hairstyles and weight in certain states. You can have diversity, but if you don’t have inclusion, people will not dance and stay. Equity is about fairness and justice, acknowledging that we don’t all start from the same place and that there are systemic and structural barriers, both intentional and unintentional, limiting personal growth and success for everyone.
Where would you say Creighton is right now in terms of equity, diversity and inclusion?
There are some things we’re doing really well as a university. There are some opportunities for us to get better. We — as faculty, students and staff — do not yet reflect the communities that we serve. We’ve seen some significant gains since a cabinet-level position in diversity and inclusion was created in 2018, and it’s important we keep up this momentum and do what we need to do to create a place where everyone will flourish.
How do we best recruit and retain students from underrepresented minority groups?
The biggest barrier continues to be the cost of attendance. Scholarships are the key to providing more opportunities for underrepresented minorities. Funds like the Union Pacific Diversity Scholarship and the Next Generation Leaders Scholarship are doing so much to support individuals who haven’t historically been in these spaces. But ultimately, Creighton needs more full-tuition scholarships to create a more diverse campus.
Once these students come to Creighton, it’s about providing opportunities for them to fully participate in the life of the University. The students we retain are really embedded in the campus community. That means mission trips or student activities or studying abroad. If you do not have enough money to do these things, you are not fully experiencing everything Creighton has to offer. We need the resources to give our students the opportunities to really engage, and as a result they will be more likely to persist, to stay and to graduate.
How is Creighton reaching out to the local community?
We continue to work to strengthen the University’s relationship with the Omaha community, particularly with our neighbors to the north and south. In January, Creighton celebrated a week of events around Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In February, the University launched a Presidential Lecture Series focused on race. Our goal was to use these events, which were open to the public, as a launchpad to change discussions and change experiences and increase inclusivity here at Creighton.
What has been the reaction from campus and alumni?
There is such a willingness to want to grow and develop within the Creighton community. I do not think that is true everywhere. It’s exciting to know that in the students, faculty, staff, alumni and leaders, I have true partners who want us to be better — and believe that we can be.
Want to support the many exciting initiatives of the Division of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion? Make a gift to Creighton’s Forward Blue campaign at creighton.edu/supportforwardblue.