Strayer University has always served a large, diverse population of students, where different backgrounds, stories and circumstances are honored and supported.. Those values and tenets are now a formal Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion program, led by Dr. Jacqueline Palmer, chief diversity officer and special assistant to Strayer University president.
“DEI is something that many of my colleagues and I have always engaged in, but there’s always more to learn,” says Dr. Palmer. “I’m happy we now have a structure in place so I can concentrate more fully on this initiative and the impact it will have for our students, faculty and staff.”
Dr. Palmer knows that the best policies start at the personal level. “When people think of DEI, they think of sweeping, top-down policies that take time to implement, and the desired outcomes can feel unreachable,” she explains. “But with our staff, I explain to them that something as basic as including people in decision-making creates an inclusive environment. Letting people’s voices be heard is DEI in action.”
The initiative set out to assess the current DEI climate at Strayer, establish specific and measurable performance goals and model practices that promote a culture of inclusivity. One of the most important elements of the DEI work is listening to students and responding to feedback.
“What excites me the most is the willingness of everyone to share their struggles and develop initiatives that will make a difference in their life, “says Dr. Palmer. “That helps us prioritize our efforts. If people aren’t sharing their pain points, it won’t matter how strong our program is; we won’t be able to respond in a personal way that really has an impact.”
Dr. Palmer’s own personal experience has given her an understanding of how a culture of inclusion can have a tangible impact on students’ experiences.
“When I attended college, I was in the fifth class of women at a university that had been 100% male for more than 200 years. I was one of those statistics that looked so good for them,” says Dr. Palmer. “I was there, but I really did not feel included. And that feeling has stayed with me, so that even today, no matter what the environment is, or where I am – I am always committed to creating an inclusive space.”
Being open to learning and committed to improving is a cornerstone of building an effective DEI culture. “DEI is not a goal that can be checked off a list, but an ideal that requires continuous, deliberate strategies and action,” says Dr. Palmer. “We are not going to be successful without everyone’s personal commitment to action.”