New equity statement declares NIU’s commitment to support students

An equity statement already in the works at NIU has taken on added meaning during these challenging times.

A reflection of strategic efforts the past several years to cultivate equity, student success and prioritize inclusion at NIU, the recently released statement reads:

“Northern Illinois University strives to improve outcomes for all students by identifying and removing barriers that disproportionately hinder the academic achievement and student experience of historically and currently underserved populations.”

According to NIU’s Chief Diversity Officer, Vernese Edghill-Walden, Ph.D., the statement comes at a time of “equity in action” as the campus community adapts to a new way of living and learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

NIU has worked to continually to update information and resources meant to support the health and wellness of the university community during these times.

The new equity statement reflects the university’s commitment to giving students the individualized resources they need to succeed.

“It has become an action statement,” Edghill-Walden said. “The unfortunate circumstances of COVID-19 have really shown a light on how much more this statement is needed and must be at the forefront of our thinking. It must be the lens that we use to really support all of our students, even more so since COVID-19.”

Based on input gathered from faculty, staff, students and the community by Edghill-Walden and members of the Committee for Academic Equity and Inclusive Excellence, the equity statement is more than a declaration.

It operationalizes and institutionalizes equity at NIU and will help establish future equity goals and initiatives to reduce equity gaps.

“The equity statement provides a beacon towards which we strive in all that we do,” said Executive Vice President and Provost Beth Ingram, Ph.D. “Now, more than ever, we must aspire to live our values as we support our students, faculty and staff.”

In alignment with President Lisa Freeman’s vision, NIU has made equity and inclusion a top priority and has earned recognition for these efforts.

The university recently won an Honorable Mention as part of the 2020 National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education Institutional Excellence Awards. The award recognizes institutions that have demonstrated measurable progress in promoting and sustaining innovative diversity efforts within the campus community.

The new equity statement champions NIU’s diverse voices, said Kathryn Cady, Ph.D., a member of the Committee for Academic Equality and Inclusive Excellence.

“NIU serves so many students from groups who are historically underserved by higher education, including first-generation college students; students from lower socio-economic backgrounds; students of color; and queer, trans and gender nonconforming students,” said Cady, acting director of the Center for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality and an associate professor in the Department of Communication.

“Having this guiding light to think about how to best support these students helps all members of the NIU community – faculty, students, staff and administrators,” Cady said.

The equity statement spells out the university’s intention to ensure all policies and practices continue to support each individual student.

“I believe that NIU has always valued its students and providing an equity statement to the community that it can understand and embrace is especially important during these trying times,” said Tawanda Gipson, a senior research associate in the Office of Institutional Effectiveness and a member of the Committee for Academic Equality and Inclusive Excellence.

“I believe the statement does a great job of encompassing NIU’s values and true intentions of supporting its students in any way possible.”

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