Diversity, equity and inclusive excellence at LU: An Interview with Dr. John Bello-Ogunu, Sr.

Lamar University’s vice president for Diversity, Inclusion and Intercultural Affairs is leading the President’s Task Force on Diversity, Inclusion, Access and Equity. In this interview, Bello-Ogunu talks about the task force’s initial efforts, recommendations and plans going forward.

Q: What is the President’s Task Force on Diversity, Inclusion, Access and Equity and when was it formed?
A: LU President Ken Evans established the task force June 26 as one more institutional mechanism for John Bello Ogunupromoting and advancing diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice at Lamar University.

Our ultimate goal is to work collaboratively with the entire university community in transforming LU into a more diverse, inclusive, equitable, welcoming and supportive learning, working and living institution for all its members. The task force consists of 29 members, including students, faculty, staff and administration from diverse backgrounds. Because of the size of the group, the task force has been divided into several subcommittees or workgroups to ensure productive, effective and efficient operations as we proceed with the critical tasks ahead of us. The task force is being led by four co-chairs. The co-chairs are Dr. Lynn Maurer, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences; Dr. Natalie Tindall, chair of the Department of Communication and Media in the College of Fine Arts and Communication; Dr. Kelly Brown, assistant professor in educational leadership in the College of Education and Human Development and me.

Q: What are the tasks ahead of you?
A: President Evans has given the task force a four-fold charge. First, to serve as a catalyst for critical constructive campus dialogue on diversity, inclusion, access and equity. Second, the task force is to assess the current state of overall diversity on campus; third, to recommend realistic and effective ways or strategies for addressing the identified challenges; and fourth, to develop a comprehensive “Diversity, Inclusion, Access and Equity Strategic Plan” to serve as a guiding institutional “blueprint” for the university’s short-term and long-term work toward achieving inclusive excellence.

Q: What have you accomplished since June?
A: As previously mentioned, the task force has restructured itself into several subcommittees - seven in all. The seven subcommittees are as follows:
-Campus Diversity Climate
-Curriculum and Co-Curriculum Transformation
-Enhancing Intercultural Competency
-Recruitment, Retention and Professional Advancement of Faculty and Staff of Color
-Recruitment, Retention, Academic Success
-Timely Graduation of Students of Color
-Women and Gender Equity
-Community Engagement

We have also identified several areas of diversity, equity, inclusion and access where we can help to move Lamar University’s ongoing diversity efforts to the next level of excellence. In addition, the task force has categorized the referenced areas into tentative short-term and long-term initiatives and presented them to President Evans for his review and final approval. Once approved, these initiatives will be assigned to the subcommittees according to their respective, primary areas of focus. Lastly, the task force has reviewed Lamar University’s draft 2020-2025 strategic plan for diversity, equity and inclusion representation and presented its feedback to the president and his executive cabinet at the President’s Executive Retreat in September.

Q: After reviewing the five-year strategic plan, does the task force have recommendations?
A: Yes. We know that there ought to be diversity, equity and inclusion in essentially every aspect of the plan, which underscores what the president had repeatedly said: ‘that it is our collective responsibility, and it is a given that all of us, no exceptions, should see diversity as an essential element of the things that we do.’ This being the holistic transformation and preparation of our students to become educated global citizens, who can function effectively, productively and successfully in a world of many colors.  Thus, much, if not all of the task force’s feedback on the draft 2020-2025 strategic plan, supports this very important fact.

Q: Can you share some of that feedback?
A: Of course. The task force believes that diversity, equity, and inclusion need to be represented in the vision statement. There was a suggestion to include specific goals for the university to increase diverse populations like African Americans, Latinx, etc. on its campus by a certain time. Someone suggested that we emphasize the critical role that faculty have in shaping students’ lives, especially those from historically underrepresented, underserved and socioeconomically disadvantaged groups, as well as those who are marginalized. There was a recommendation that we (i.e., the university) need a multicultural center for students on campus, where they can bond, connect with resources, and learn how to better navigate the campus, among many other benefits.

Another member of the task force suggested that we mention in the strategic plan that LU strives to be a safe haven for students of various cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Still, others suggested that there should be a statement in the strategic plan that clearly expresses the university’s teaching, research and creativity expectations as they relate to diversity, equity and inclusive excellence. Those were just a few of the many recommendations offered.

Q: So, where do you start? It seems a bit overwhelming.
A: Yes, it is a bit overwhelming. However, we also see our charge as a golden opportunity to assist the university in ultimately becoming a regional (and hopefully, a national) model of a true all-inclusive, multicultural campus community. In keeping with best practice in inclusive excellence in American higher education, the task force has identified five different pillars of diversity to guide its work. These pillars include:
-Campus climate
-Recruitment, retention and professional advancement of faculty and staff of color
-Recruitment, retention, enrollment and timely graduation of students of color
-Curriculum and co-curriculum transformation
-Enhancing intercultural competency
-Women and gender equity and community engagement.

Therefore, the large task force has been broken into seven workgroups and assigned specific responsibilities according to the preceding diversity pillars, and they have begun their work accordingly. Of course, we realize that not all of the recommended short-term and long-term DEI initiatives can be achieved overnight. Some are more challenging and complex than others and will demand more time, energy and resources. However, in the end, the task force is very committed to the charge that has been given to it by the president and to producing concrete outcomes within the framework of the aforementioned diversity pillars that the university can be proud of, including the successful development of Lamar University’s inaugural comprehensive, Diversity, Equity and Inclusive Excellence Strategic Plan.

Q: What’s the next step?
A:  As a result of the task force’s collective feedback on the LU strategic plan, I have, on behalf of the task force, proposed that first, a central and declarative statement on LU’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion be included in the draft 2020-2025 strategic plan. Second, the plan should also include a separate, stand-alone goal statement on diversity, equity and inclusion, which charges the President’s Task Force on Diversity to develop a comprehensive “Diversity, Equity and Inclusive Excellence Strategic Plan” for Lamar University, subject to the review and   final approval of the president and his executive cabinet. Lastly, I have also recommended that a tentative deadline for the completion and submission of the task force’s initial draft diversity plan to the president and the cabinet be established.

Q: What can the LU community do to help?
A: The President’s Task Force on Diversity, and, indeed, the university as a whole, cannot succeed in achieving Lamar University’s diversity and inclusive excellence strategic goals without the collective and sustained support of the entire campus community. From what I have experienced so far in my more than four years of tenure at Lamar University, I have no doubt whatsoever that the task force will continue to enjoy the unwavering support of President Evans and that of the entire campus community.

I appreciate the opportunity to share the ongoing critical work of the President’s Task Force on Diversity on behalf of Lamar University. We look forward to sharing our additional accomplishments and the campus community in the future as our work progresses.

President’s Taskforce on “Diversity, Inclusion, Access and Equity
Official Membership List

Dr. John O. Bello-Ogunu, Sr., vice president, Division of Global Diversity, Inclusion and Intercultural Affairs
Dr. Kelly Brown, assistant professor, Educational Leadership, College of Education and Human Development
Dr. Lynn Maurer, dean/professor, College of Arts & Sciences
Dr. Natalie Tindall, chair/professor communication, College of Fine Arts and Communication

Ms. Jennifer Ravey, instructor/director, The Writing Center
Dr. Delvin Seawright, assistant professor, accounting and business law, College of Business
Dr. Arne Almquist, vice president, Information Management Decisions/Supply Services and dean, Mary and John Gray Library
Dr. Bianca Easterly, assistant professor, political science, College of Arts and Sciences
Mr. Kyle Mutz, director, Disability Resource Center
Chief Hector Flores, chief, Campus Police/Division of Student Engagement
Mr. Moses Dupre, director, athletics compliance
Ms. Shelbe Rodriguez, manager, social media, Marketing Communications)
Ms. Diann Brodnax, senior research analyst
Dr. Ian Lian, assistant professor, biology, College of Arts and Sciences
Dr. Mustapha Jourdini, interim executive director, Office of International Education Services
Dr. Robert Wagner, executive director, Campus Services
Dr. Jacqueline Jensen-Vallin, associate professor, mathematics, College of Arts and Sciences
Mr. Garry Richards-Foster, department business manager, College of Arts & Sciences
Ms. Stephanie Broussard, assistant director, Graduate Recruitment, Enrollment Services
Mr. Dean Terrebonne, chief of staff, President’s Office
Mr. Norman Bellard, assistant to the president, Community Relations
Dr. Wilma Jackson, director, Global Diversity and Inclusive Excellence, Diversity & Intercultural Affairs
Dr. Terry Mena, associate vice president, Student Engagement and Dean of Students

Student Representatives
Landon Richard, orientation leader
Erin Taylor, resident
Jasmine Patin, vice president, SGA
Alexandria Doxsee, LU Hispanic Society
Luis Arevalo, president, LU Hispanic Society
Nallely Ponce, LU Hispanic Society  

PTFD Subcommittee Chairs/Co-Chairs and Members
Campus Diversity Climate Subcommittee Members
Dr. Terry Mena, co-chair
Dr. Wilma Jackson
Mr. Norman Bellard                                                                       
Dr. Bert Wagner, co-chair
Mr. Héctor Flores
Ms. Stephanie Broussard
Ms. Jasmine Patin
Mr. Landon Richard
Mr. Luis Arevalo

Curriculum and Co-Curriculum Transformation Subcommittee Members
Dr. Ian Lian
Dr. Mustapha Jourdini, chair
Ms. Jennifer Ravey
Dr. Natalie Tindall
Dr. Delvin Seawright
Mr. Landon Richard

Enhancing Intercultural Competency Subcommittee Members
Mr. Dean Terrebonne
Mr. Garry Richards-Foster co-chair
Ms. Diann Brodnax
Mr. Kyle Mutz
Dr. Wilma Jackson, co-chair)
Dr. Kelly Brown
Ms. Erin Taylor
Dr. John O. Bello-Ogunu, Sr.
Dr. Terry Mena

Recruitment, Retention, and Professional Advancement of Faculty and Staff of Color Subcommittee Members
Dr. Jacqueline Jensen-Vallin
Dr. Arne Almquist
Dr. Lynn Maurer, co-chair
Ms. Jasmine Patin
Dr. Kelly Brown
Dr. Natalie Tindall, co-chair
Dr. John Bello-Ogunu, Sr.
Dr. Terry Mena

Recruitment, Retention, Academic Success, and Timely Graduation of Students of Color Subcommittee Members
Mr. Norman Bellard
Dr. Delvin Seawright
Mr. Héctor Flores
Dr. Jacqueline Jensen-Vallin, co-chair
Dr. Bianca Easterly
Ms. Stephanie Broussard, co-chair
Dr. Natalie Tindall
Ms. Erin Taylor
Dr. Terry Mena

Women and Gender Equity Subcommittee Members
Ms. Diann Brodnax
Dr. Bert Wagner, co-chair
Ms. Shelbe Rodriguez
Mr. Kyle Mutz, co-chair
Dr. Lynn Maurer
Ms. Stephanie Broussard
Ms. Alexandria Doxsee  

Community Engagement Subcommittee Members
Mr. Norman Bellard, chair
Dr. Bert Wagner
Mr. Héctor Flores
Mr. Kyle Mutz
Mr. Moses Dupre
Dr. John Bello-Ogunu, Sr.
Ms. Nallely Ponce