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NIU plays integral role in statewide effort to champion campus equity

November 23, 2020

Earning accolades, NIU continues to be a leader in the area of equitable access for students from diverse backgrounds.

University leaders, including NIU President Lisa Freeman, recently joined representatives from 28 community colleges and universities throughout Illinois at a 2020 Virtual Fall Summit hosted by the Illinois Equity in Attainment Initiative.

Themed “Engaging Faculty Champions in Campus Equity Work,” the Oct. 21-23 summit explored the critical role faculty play in helping to create inclusive environments inside and outside the classroom to provide greater opportunities for students to succeed.

With 25 registrants, including 15 faculty members, NIU was represented during each of the summit’s three days and earned an award for having the most faculty members participate. The number of NIU participants overall was among the highest amount at the summit.

Dr. Freeman participated in a breakout session featuring university presidents leading equity change efforts on their campuses.

“I am very pleased that so many Huskies made time to attend the virtual summit, to learn from the featured experts and network with fellow members of the ILEA community,” she said. “And, I am very proud of the fact that NIU was well represented among the invited speakers as well as the audience. We have worked to make equity a priority, and it’s wonderful to see our commitment recognized.”

Led by the Partnership for College Completion, the ILEA brings university leaders together to share information and brainstorm ways to address achievement gaps prevalent in Illinois and throughout the country. As a champion of equity, NIU has played a leading role in the effort.

“They look to us to provide guidance and thought on how we can promote the equity agenda for the state of Illinois,” said NIU’s Chief Diversity Officer, Vernese Edghill-Walden, Ph.D., vice president for Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and chief diversity officer at NIU.

Highlighting NIU’s holistic approach to financial aid and admissions, including test-blind admissions and scholarships and the Huskie Pledge, Edghill-Walden spoke as part of an “Illinois Legislative Panel: Higher Education Agenda in Illinois” session.

“It’s important for the institution to lead the change that is needed, with support from legislatures promoting equity,” she said. “It’s important for the legislature to realize that equity must be at the center of the work we do, but it’s not necessarily a one-size-fits-all approach.”

NIU’s Strategic Enrollment Management Plan spells out the university’s commitment to be a leader in the area of equitable access. Earlier this year, the university released an equity statement, a reflection of strategic efforts the past several years.

The 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.”

More than a declaration, the statement operationalizes and institutionalizes equity at NIU, where equity and inclusion are weaved into every aspect of the university.

Renique Kersh, Ph.D., associate vice provost for Student Engagement and Success, presented an overview of NIU’s equity plan at the summit.

“It was an honor to represent NIU’s efforts to promote equity,” she said. “I focused on the role that leadership plays in changing institutional culture and championing equity with fervor. It is not enough for an equity plan to be in place, but for us, the steadfast leadership of our president, Lisa Freeman, her deep commitment to the values of equity and inclusion and her willingness to align resources with priorities has been key to our success.

“This type of leadership makes the already insurmountable work to create a culture of equity more feasible and reframes everything we do, from advising to awarding scholarships to developing policies and procedures.”