When I took this role over five years ago, I knew there were many opportunities for Joliet Junior College to grow. I was ready to take it on! But as you might guess, there were just as many challenges facing the institution. One of those challenges included the college’s lack of organization and ownership of diversity initiatives.
In the following years, we launched the President’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council to demonstrate accountability and ownership. JJC’s DEI plan launched prior to the pandemic. Shortly thereafter, the Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Compliance was developed to allocate resources to meet our goals.
We had some great successes, and there was more awareness of our initiatives. We were building a network of DEI champions. Our diversity work is an intersection of so many areas: recruiting, hiring, and retention; business and procurement; marketing; student and employee programming and support; advocacy in the community.
We recognized this nexus and began formally tracking our progress. We had an increase in the number of minority applications for faculty and staff. We increased fall-to-fall student retention rates geared toward greater ADA accessibility and Spanish language opportunities. And for the second year in a row, we received a Top Employer for Diversity Jobs recognition from DiversityJobs.com for building a diverse workforce, culture and outreach over an extended length of time. Things were progressing.
Yet, something was missing. It became increasingly clear that we needed to break down the walls within our own house. We needed to truly listen to our campus and to our students. People were hurting. We needed to challenge our existing ways of thinking, and how we related to one another. In the summer of 2020, we persisted under the weight of the COVID pandemic. The deep pain of racial injustice happening across the country and in our community was overwhelming. I was beginning to question if we were making any progress at all.
I can tell you now that what was missing in those moments was a shared vulnerability. We needed to create spaces for our employees and students to be vulnerable and have meaningful exchanges. To be meaningful, they needed to be real. We needed to understand the lived experiences of those around us, and to be able to tell our own stories of unconscious bias, racism, and inequity. We created spaces for employees to talk in small groups, through facilitated conversation or through the new DEI Book Club launched in the summer of 2020. A large population of our employees have now completed cultural competency trainings. The feedback has been positive, and the transformation of our culture is tangible.
I am so thankful for every single person on our campus—every person has contributed to this journey, and shaped who we are today. We are meeting our DEI goals, and in the process, have found new ways to acknowledge and appreciate one another.
Dr. Judy Mitchell
President, Joliet Junior College