DEI Council begins but work remains

On her way out of Walmart recently, Michelle Santana saved someone’s life by giving them CPR. That’s the kind of person she is.

She has been saving lives and giving aid since becoming a nurse after attending Neumann University as an adult mother.

Since then she has gone on for her doctorate, become a professor at her alma mater, and given her care to students.

Now she is on a new mission to provide aid and comfort to the Knights.

Two years ago, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and a reckoning with systemic racism, Neumann made a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“I will commit to finding ways that we can speak out against racism and injustice, offer opportunities for dialogue, and work to ensure that our University community is a place of opportunity and hope for all,” said University President Chris Domes in a letter posted on the Neumann website as protests sprang up around the country.

Part of fulfilling that promise was the creation of a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council. The next step was a full-time position, DEI Coordinator.

Domes identified Santana as best for the role, but before she would take it she had to be convinced the university was sincere in its efforts.

She was and now she serves in this leadership position.

“DEI to me is about being a human being and being respected as a human being regardless of race, creed, sexual orientation, your religion because we are all individual people,” she said.

Respect is important to students, who want to feel appreciated for who they are regardless of their life experiences.

Trinitee Thompson-Pierce remembers a hurtful moment with a faculty member. “He made me feel like I was stupid, he talked to me like I was dumb, and I didn’t like that,” she said.

To start working on these issues, Santana’s office has created a website with news, events, information, and resources including a library of reading and viewing materials.

Another important step was a new system for reporting instances of bias.

“We're hoping that everyone will have the feeling of not being marginalized,” said Santana.

It is an important goal because some students do feel like outsiders.

“I can definitely say I have felt marginalized,” said Lynnewood White, a junior. “Most of my teachers are white, not saying I have a problem with that, but I do feel like I would like to have more teachers of color, just for representation, especially in the sciences, it would be nice to have those in the STEM field - people who look like you.”

White and Thompson-Pierce, like many other students, had never heard of DEI initiatives on campus.

This suggests there is still some work to do for the University DEI Council. The council is divided into subgroups, one of the subgroups is communication.

However, these initiatives are still young and Santana recognizes there is still work to do.

People who do not know the DEI Council “can expect for us to ask for them to partner, to be in collaboration,” said Santana.