Damon Williams’ visit climaxes COD’s diversity and inclusion series


Vandy Manyeh

Vandy Manyeh, News Reporter

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A nationally-respected diversity expert challenged College of DuPage faculty and administrators to push the college’s melting pot beyond enrollment last Monday. Diversity at an institution like COD brings students and administrators from all walks of life together regardless of their race or gender. But this diversity goes hand in hand with leadership, equity, and inclusiveness.

During his presentation, Williams appreciated the diverse nature of the college and urged members of the administration here to put on an innovative posture by asking the questions related to the population at COD. His innovative approach to a diversity and inclusion agenda takes into consideration all facets of a diverse background and not just the usual issues of race and gender.

“Innovators always question the world,” said Williams. “They wonder why? Why does our institution look the way it does at the students’ level, in terms of race-ethnicity and gender, but maybe it doesn’t look that way at the executive level? Why are all the black kids sitting together at the cafeteria table? Why some of our students grouped together in this way and others are grouped together in that way? Why do we have so many more men in this disciplinary area than women? Why does that faculty member seem so eager to mentor a young woman but seem not so eager to mentor someone of another gender?”

These were points reechoed by Damon Williams when he lectured the college and provided some thoughts about diversity and inclusion in higher education. From a meeting with the college’s President Ann Rondeau, spending a time with students in the gaming room, lunch and lectures with members of the faculty, to a time spent in the atrium getting to know students, Williams, an expert diversity and inclusion planner as it relates to higher education brought his wealth of experience from about 400 universities he has visited globally. His visit will help the college to have a complete diversity and inclusion agenda.

He believes asking unique, mind-blowing questions from observation and available data will stop a college like COD from what he termed as the “strategy by mimicry.”  This strategy according to Williams has prevented colleges in the nation from finding solutions to where the problems exist, rather than trying to work with what they believe is a validated strategy. “Innovation is about finding solutions where the problem exists,” continued Williams.

Williams appealed to the college to get ready for the “perfect storm of variables.” These variables are considered the ever-changing environment from more female students in the STEM fields to a complete diverse nature of universities.

Members of the administration were touched and appeared ready to carry out Williams’ suggestions here at COD.

“There is another dimension of his work that has challenged us,” said Emmanuel Awuah, associate vice president for academic affairs when making comments about William’s visit. “The question of leadership, the question of institutional transformation, that will lead to a long-term, sustained effort at COD has been on our mind in ensuring that we move beyond diversity, which is everyone is welcomed to come to this institution, to creating an inclusive environment in which everyone who comes will surely feel welcomed and will like to stay in achieving their personal educational goals.”

Williams currently serves as the senior vice president of program, training, and youth development services of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. He is respected nationally as one of the nation’s brightest minds when it comes to diversity and inclusion, writing two books on cutting edge leadership strategies. He previously served as associate vice chancellor, vice provost, and chief diversity officer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The diversity and inclusion team here at COD is already fired up to build on what they have learned from the entire series. In a partnership with the office of student life, the diversity and inclusion department has launched a crucial conversations forum led by students where they received training from the Center for Civic Reflections that is affiliated with Valparaiso University.

“Now students can begin to share and exchange on diversity leadership and provide documented perspectives for better curricular and co-curricular experiences,” said David Swope, COD’s manager for diversity and inclusion. “Most importantly we look to continue our dialogue with President Rondeau and the cabinet and in measured ways be a part of further developing a campus community that reflects the rich diversity of learners and strengthens our relationships with a diverse community population.”

The college will now continue to build on its multicultural agenda.