Vice Chancellor of Diversity and Inclusion aims to celebrate differences

Straight out of a housing project, Susan Wilson found it difficult fitting in at a predominantly white university during her college years. Being the only minority in several of her classes, she felt isolated and struggled to make friends. However, attending her campus’ minority office allowed her to acquire a sense of belonging at her university.

Today, Wilson serves as the Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion at UMKC. Since being appointed in 2014, Wilson has made sure Diversity and Inclusion is part of the university-wide comprehensive strategy.

“Without doing that, Diversity and Inclusion is destined to fail, because it’s just this office down the hall that’s isolated,” Wilson said. “One of my first messages when I came here is that diversity and inclusion isn’t just our job here. Everybody has to be a part of it, and everybody has to make a difference in this area.”

By 2045, the nation is projected to be minority white, according to the US Census Bureau. As demographics change nationwide, Wilson seeks to improve teaching and engaging underrepresented students. Wilson noted that failing to do so would result in a decrease in student enrollment numbers at UMKC.

“The whole purpose of our strategy is really to create an environment of respect, inclusion and welcoming for all kinds of students, faculty and staff, so that we can be successful in our mission of education,” Wilson said.

In Spring 2018, the UMKC Division of Diversity and Inclusion Annual Report revealed whites make up the majority of the student population at 61.5 percent. African-Americans make up 9.3 percent, and Asians and Hispanics are tied at 7.2 percent each. One of the ways Wilson assesses whether students feel welcomed at UMKC is through conducting a climate survey every five years since becoming vice chancellor.

Wilson believes the 2006 climate survey was not very complimentary of UMKC Diversity and Inclusion, so it conducted another survey 10 years later in 2016.

“We saw improvement in our overall climate and the number of people who said they felt comfortable here,” said Wilson. “That was about 79 percent, so we still have a little ways to go, but the point is we’ve made improvement.”

Wilson noted that virtually every professional field benefits from understanding and accepting underrepresented people. For example, those in business who know how to market to different groups are going to see more financial successes. Likewise, those working on college campuses who know how to onboard and retain minority students are going to have better enrollment and greater retention.

“I think it’s important for everybody to understand that they’re going into a global marketplace now,” Wilson said. “More and more, you’re going to have work with people who are very different from you, very different from where you grew up. You have to have a global and multicultural mindset and understand that the world isn’t just always exactly how you see it.”

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