Passionate advocate for social justice takes on new ADEI role at NIU

It’s only been a couple months since Jane Pappas became NIU’s new Assistant Director for Social Justice Education in Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

But, with social justice issues at the forefront of the national conversation, their contributions have been significant.

Jane Pappas

“It really has felt like I hit the ground running,” Pappas said. “It’s been nice to feel like I can contribute to something meaningful in such a short amount of time.”

Since joining the Huskie family in the newly created position, Pappas has worked on expanding, as well as adapting in light of today’s COVID-19 challenges, NIU’s Social Justice Education programs.

Among many efforts, Pappas has reconfigured training for facilitators of the university’s CODE Workshops, a series that engages students, faculty and staff in learning about cultural differences. Instead of a two-day, in-person workshop, facilitators will take a six-week online course.

“We’ve really had to be creative on how we engage with folks on social justice,” Pappas said.

Based on the popularity of a recent Social Justice Workshop & Townhall Virtual Series they helped organize, Pappas also is one of the folks planning future social justice townhall events to take place throughout the fall. Topics for the events, featuring expert panelists, will vary monthly.

“We’re keeping it very interactive so folks are able to ask questions directly to experts and get some much needed clarity on this content,” Pappas said.

Another Social Justice Education program, the Huskie Conversation Café, also will continue this fall, transitioning from in-person gatherings to a 12-episode podcast hosted by Pappas. Discussions will center around the book, “When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir” by Patrisse Khan-Cullors.

Pappas plans to bring in guest speakers and include supplemental episodes on broad social justice topics.

In this brief period of time, Pappas has become a phenomenal addition to NIU and the ADEI team, said Jocelyn Santana, director of Social Justice Education for ADEI.

“Jane demonstrates leadership, initiative and has a desire to have a positive impact on our campus. We are developing innovative programming to inspire conversations that matter and encourage action toward equity and inclusion,” Santana said. “Jane’s arrival to NIU is occurring during an interesting time — navigating Covid-19 and a civil rights movement. They have not skipped a beat and is starting to make professional connections on campus.”

Earning both a bachelor’s degree in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies and a master’s degree in Student Development in Higher Education with a focus in counseling skills for social justice from the University of Maine, Pappas has had a passion for social justice since a young age.

 “I saw there were problems in the world, and I wanted to be involved in fixing them,” Pappas remembers. “I think a lot about the fact that if you aren’t the one that does something and stands up to be part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. I don’t want to be part of the problem.”

Identifying as queer—a community that is often marginalized and oppressed in many ways—Pappas said their passion for social justice takes on personal, added meaning.

“There is definitely a lot of discrimination that happens to not only myself, but in this community that is close to me as well as broadly worldwide and I want to make sure that doesn’t continue to happen for folks in the future,” Pappas said. “It sounds corny, but I basically want to make the world a better place.”

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