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From the Desk: Vice provost for diversity discusses his office’s mission of inclusion

Sep 10, 2019

As a faculty member and as the vice provost for diversity and inclusion here at Indiana University Bloomington, my job is to support campus initiatives that help us recruit, retain and advance underrepresented faculty, students and staff. I want to make this campus feel like a second home, where people are supported to do their best work and live their best lives.

My vice provost position was born out of the Bicentennial Strategic Plan for IU Bloomington, which called on IU Bloomington to make our academic community “a global beacon for faculty diversity and inclusivity” by investing in both the human and financial capital needed to develop a successful infrastructure.

There’s also a personal side to why I’m passionate about this work. As the youngest of seven children, raised near Los Angeles, I had little real awareness of what higher education was or how it could change my future. I recall my mother saying, “Mijo, your dad and I love you and want you to go to college, but we don’t know how to help get you there or how to pay for it.” Through a confluence of luck and preparation, I landed a track scholarship at UCLA.

As a first-gen student, I doubted about whether I really belonged there. A few remarkable professors and instructors, however, assured me I did belong and nourished my passion for research. With their encouragement and example, I went on to earn my Ph.D. in U.S. history, focusing on Latinx communities.

I don’t want any of our faculty, staff or students to feel the weight of the “imposter syndrome.” Part of my job involves bringing together individuals from disparate disciplines and backgrounds to figure out where we can support one another. We have launched a number of initiatives to that end.

Description of the following video:


[Words appear: Why Indiana University? Presented by the Office of the Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion]

[Video: Dionne Cross Francis walks along Wright School of Education second floor railing while speaking]

[Words appear: Dionne Cross Francis, associate professor, School of Education]

Francis speaks: Having left Jamaica, I was looking for a professional community that was caring and nurturing where I would thrive professionally.

[Video: Photo appears of Francis and School of Education Dean Lemuel Watson]

Francis speaks in voiceover: I was also looking for one that would highly value both teaching and research.

[Video: Francis continues walking along the railing]

Francis speaks: And hopefully that would be situated within a region that was warm all year round. Well I had to let go of criterion three.

[Video: Photo appears of Francis holding an IU foam finger while laughing with her husband]

Francis speaks in voiceover: But instead I gained tremendously in being able to be situated …

[Video: Photo appears of Francis examining a trifold poster]

Francis speaks in voiceover: … within a community of excellent educators …

[Video: Photo appears of Francis posing for group photo with her peers]

Francis speaks in voiceover: … and also highly productive scholars who …

[Video: Photo appears of man holding abstract print/cut out]

Francis speaks in voiceover: … were at the tops of their field.

[Video: Francis steps backwards along the second-floor railing of the Wright School of Education building while speaking]

Francis speaks: So if you’re looking for a community …

[Video: Photo appears of Francis smiling while holding hands with her husband]

Francis speaks in voiceover: … where you will thrive both personally and professionally, with colleagues who will …

[Video: Francis stands along second-floor railing of Wright School of Education]

Francis speaks: … revel in your success as much as they do their own, I would say join us at the IU School of Education.

[Video: Red background with white IU logo appears]

[Words appear:]


Each year, the Office of the Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion holds faculty hiring workshops that help committees identify and block unconscious bias and that provide best practices to attract diverse applicant pools. We also work closely with the schools on our campus to move their diversity plans forward.

We also organize events that help faculty, staff and students connect with one another and form important bonds that are crucial to “community.” Last year, more than 100 faculty took part in diversity luncheons, a space for networking, mentorship and conversation; and more than 150 faculty and staff attended our inaugural “Diversity Celebration,” co-hosted with the College of Arts and Sciences’ Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

Additionally, the Office of the Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion has brought together a Faculty Diversity Council to share, coordinate and monitor diversity plans, and a Staff Diversity Council that advocates best practices for diversity and helps implement initiatives in each school.

Our office also works closely with academic support programs to recruit and support first-gen and underrepresented students. This fall – and for several years running – IU is welcoming a record number of minority students to our campus. Nearly 20 percent of entering scholars are from underrepresented minority populations.

IU is fortunate to have a remarkable team of campus leaders who are committed to bringing about a more inclusive campus. One of those leaders is Dionne Danns, associate vice provost for institutional diversity. She is an associate professor and chair of the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. In her role with our office, she focuses on initiatives such as strategic faculty hiring, working with IU Bloomington’s deans on diversity plans and coordinating efforts among staff professionals.

An important partner in our efforts is the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs, which each year sponsors 45 faculty fellows from IU to take part in the Faculty Success Program, organized by the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity. IU is among the largest and most active institutional members of the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity. We also work closely with the Office of Institutional Equity, IU Human Resources, the Dean of Students, and the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs, to gather and study data relating to social climate, diversity, student success, and incidents of bias or hate.

Other partners include the Bloomington Faculty Council’s Diversity and Affirmative Action Committee and the Center of Excellence for Women in Technology, both of which are leaders in advancing diversity and equity. We also support the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning Diversity Fellows program, which provides workshops for faculty and instructors on inclusive practices in the classroom. And finally, though not least, following the lead of the Political and Civic Engagement program, we’re pleased to promote the Big Ten Voting Challenge, to increase registration and “get out the vote.”

In these and many other ways, our campus is expanding resources to increase diversity, engagement, inclusion and respect for everyone.

Because we are living in such a divisive political and social climate, this work is vitally important to our community and our democracy. Advancing diversity and inclusion requires strategy and collaboration. We all have a role to play in responding to hate, in advancing civil society, in bringing about greater equity and understanding.

As we embark on IU’s Bicentennial Year, may we come together, with empathy, and become better versions of ourselves.

John Nieto-Philips is vice provost for diversity and inclusion at IU Bloomington.

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