DEI’s future unclear amid student optimism


Katie Wright

Students enter the Schmitt Academic Center at DePaul’s Lincoln Park Campus.

Students and staff are unsure on what to expect for upcoming changes to the diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) program as President Robert L. Manuel continues to unveil plans to redesign DePaul. While students still feel optimistic, issues relating to DEI have not always been the administration’s focus, causing uncertainty in the reality of these promises. Despite announcements from Manuel on the university’s future leaving students hopeful that change is underway, the timeline of these improvements and the path to get there remains unclear.

“In past initiatives and past presidents, diversity and equity kind of takes the backseat when it comes to institutional reform,” junior Adora Alava, Student Government Association executive vice president of DEI said. “Speaking strictly on what promises have been made so far and describing the future [Manuel] wants, he mentioned more focus on diversity and equity which is a good sign.”

Addressing his promises involving issues of bias and equity on campus, Manuel further detailed his initiatives with a Jan. 31 emailed document entitled “Moving Forward, Together.” Manuel focused on DePaul’s history with slavery, supporting underrepresented populations on campus and further promoting diversity.

“What these changes will look like and how they will come to be, we don’t know yet because we’re still designing and holding sessions,” Elizabeth Ortiz, vice president of institutional diversity and equity said. “We have to work with our stakeholders, faculty, staff and students to ask what would we offer and what would we need to know as a community.”

At the Design DePaul event, Manuel said faculty will soon be required to take DEI training. When administration in the Office of Diversity and Equity were asked about this possibility, they were unaware of this statement and said it was not the case. The current DEI program is voluntary for faculty and staff and has provided over 180 training sessions since the it’s inception in 2012.

“What we’re hoping to do is for our shared governance bodies, have them say what are the DEI competencies that we need and what can we make mandatory,” Ortiz said. “Right now what is mandatory is every faculty search and every staff search has to go through implicit bias training. We’ve already made one DEI training mandatory for all but I think we can expand that.

Alava believes these promises about DEI from Manuel are realistic because of the action he put behind them compared to past DePaul presidents. While she has only experienced two presidents during her time at DePaul, she sees Manuel being more communicative and open to understanding what the university needs.  

“Even [Manuel’s] faculty, and the team and his cabinet that he leads, have made an effort to come into the classroom and explain how they also see his vision,” Alava said. “It’s just something that needs to be consistent for me to stay optimistic about it and for a lot of students and faculty to stay optimistic as well.”

To promote and create plans for the DEI initiatives, Manuel will hold 43 vision sessions with members of the DePaul community to hear university issues from those most affected. Shajuan Young – who was appointed by Manuel as the new university-wide equity coordinator – says her role will be driven by the results of these sessions to create a strategic plan to move the university forward.

“This new role is so new that we’re still fleshing it out,” Young said. “I’ve been here for 23 years so I’ve seen the changes for the good and the bad and I think we’re going in the right direction. While we have a lot of work to do, this work can’t be done alone. This change is about collaborating and making sure that diversity and equity is available in these places.”

As part of the task force to address Vincentian’s relationship with slavery, Alava sees efforts being made with Manuel’s support to continue fostering a healthy campus environment. The task force is in the process of renaming buildings that symbolize DePaul’s history with slavery, including changing Belden-Racine Hall to Aspasia LeCompte Hall.

Meanwhile, junior Cynthia Cruz – a community engagement assistant in the Latinx Cultural Center – is unsure what action is currently being taken to address the university’s DEI issues. She believes that no matter the outcome of the change, it will rely on a more student-centered approach rather than one from university administration. 

“Something great about our school is that we have students with genuine passion and care for equity,” Cruz said. “We have people with the voices and passions for change, all they need is support from DePaul as a whole. I’m glad we have someone like [Manuel] who is willing to speak on these issues and I do hope it brings great change.”

Cruz hopes to see more opportunities and resources for students of color in the upcoming initiatives, including support for the cultural centers and more scholarships for marginalized groups. 

Alava wants to see action rather than continuous listening to problems that have already been vocalized. She hopes university administration does this by being more of a presence on campus, connecting with students and seeing the issues themselves. 

“If the students need to keep telling [administration] what’s wrong, that’s the real issue,” Alava said. “I personally don’t think there’s a lack of students voicing out their concerns, I think there is just a lack of listening on their end. There needs to be more of an individual effort to be physically here with us and make those relationships with our student organizations.”

Students remain optimistic about Manuel’s promises to reshape how DePaul deals with DEI but agree that it will take consistent action behind the promises to stay confident in the university. Cruz believes the goals being advocated for are realistic and hopes to see them come to fruition.

“I know everything starts from within,” Cruz said. “I know there’s so many students of color here who want better for themselves, their families, and their higher education. We can’t see change in the future though if we are not willing to put in the work to make those changes now.”