In an effort to move diversity initiatives forward on Illinois State University’s campus, a new position has been created.
President Larry Dietz announced Monday that professor Doris Houston has been named the interim assistant to the president for diversity and inclusion.
Houston will officially begin her duties in July.
In this position, Houston will be responsible for collaborating with the unit leaders across campus while providing direction for university initiatives. She will oversee the systematic review of the Campus Climate Implementation Task Force and work as liaison to the Diversity and Inclusion Council.
“I’m really honored, and I don’t underestimate the fact that the position will require a great deal of work, creativity and collaboration,” Houston said.
“There’s no one person that can solve any kind of issues, particularly within an institution, but I really see my role as being someone who joins hands with a number of leaders across campus ... and also our community members. It is very important that we partner with our community leaders as they rely on us like we rely on them.”
Dietz said that a position of this nature has been in the works since he took office in 2014. He recalled his first State of the University address where he invited the campus community to come to him about areas that needed improvement. Dietz said that Houston was one of the first people to come to him stressing the importance of the value of diversity.
“And we have been talking ever since,” Dietz said.
Houston has been with the University’s School of Social Work since 2005 and serves as the school’s interim director. She currently serves as the chair of the president’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council.
Houston also serves as director of the Center for Child Welfare and Adoption Studies at ISU. She was named the College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Administrative Fellow, and she also received the Outstanding College Service Award for the College of Arts and Sciences.
Dietz said Houston has been working with the Campus Climate Task Force as the co-chair since its inception. This task force as well as this new position came highly recommended after ISU’s campus climate assessment.
This position is very similar to other diversity officer roles seen at other campuses across the country, but Dietz noted that there are some differences in structure and title. For ISU, this position became formalized in spring 2019.
“This is a natural outgrowth of a conversation that we have been having for some time,” Dietz said. “This can mean a lot for students ... we need to focus more on what’s going on. There’s an advocacy role and a reporting out role.
But Dietz said there are always questions of whether the university is doing all that it can to meet the needs of students.
“Now we have a person who will really have her ear to the ground on all of this, listening to faculty, staff and students on all the ways that we can improve. I think it is really going to bring some accountability to diversity and inclusion.”
One of the biggest goals of implementing this position is to put more of a focus on the value of diversity and inclusion while bringing awareness to issues that occur across campus and the surrounding community.
Houston will work closely with Dietz on areas of the strategic plan that include, but are not limited to, diversity, inclusion and social justice. The role will support centers and programs on campus geared toward populations that are underserved and connected through affinity groups.
“This position will provide the organizational leadership necessary to ensure that we foster a campus environment characterized by cultural responsiveness and a commitment to social justice, and I ask that each and every member of the campus community join us in these efforts,” Houston said.