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Chief Diversity Officer seeks “diverse, equitable, inclusive, exemplary world-class institution"

Following a national search, Michigan State University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., MD, has named Jabbar R. Bennett as the university's vice president and chief diversity officer. Bennett will also be a professor in MSU's College of Human Medicine.

He most recently served as Northwestern University's inaugural associate provost for diversity and inclusion and its chief diversity officer. Bennett will report directly to President Stanley and work collaboratively with other university senior executives, deans, faculty, staff, and students, to develop and implement a comprehensive diversity, equity, and inclusion plan.

Bennett shares his background and career path that has led him to this new and important position at MSU, and he talks about what attracted him to the position at MSU.

Jabbar R. Bennett

“As I learned about this opportunity at MSU and began to do my research, I realized that MSU has been a forerunner and innovator for a very long time as a land-grant institution,” says Bennett. “I was pleased to learn of MSU’s leading status as a global research institution and of its core values of equality, inclusion, and connectivity which do align with my own personal values. I’m learning and understanding more about the diverse and robust campus community that exists.

“I also was aware of the solid foundation that has been built at MSU over many years by a lot of people to really think about how to develop and launch work that is relevant and that can help support the current and emerging needs of the Spartan community.

“This is truly a transformative time at MSU and there is a renewed commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. I was happy to learn about the strategic planning process that is ongoing at the institution along with the diversity, equity, and inclusion plan. I look forward to learning more about what those processes have developed and how we will integrate the diversity, equity, inclusion-related work and needs into the broader strategy.”

Bennett shares his definitions for diversity, equity, and inclusion. And he elaborates on the mission, vision, and values of the Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives and some short and long-term goals for his office and team.

“Our mission aligns within and closely supports the university's mission. And the university's mission is to advance knowledge and transform lives. In addition, the work of my office and my team embraces MSU's core values of quality, inclusion, and connectivity. We do our work through an equity lens with the understanding that true excellence cannot be achieved without diversity. In our work we consider diversity among members of our community, we acknowledge various ways of living, learning, and working, and we promote inclusive practices and policies which support the success of all Spartans.

“We will begin to focus our efforts to ensure efficiency and impact, and we'll do this while we're addressing the critical needs of today's students, faculty, and staff. If we do this well in the short term it'll help guarantee that everyone on campus acknowledges, respects, and embraces the ever-evolving composition and character of the Spartan community, as well as promote the safety, satisfaction, wellbeing and overall success of Spartans, including those who are members of underrepresented groups. In the meantime what we'll do is monitor and assess what's happening, think about the relevance and impact of our current efforts, and of course we have to remain vigilant and anticipate persistent and emerging needs that may arise.”

What are some challenges and opportunities to achieving your goals and how will you know if you have an impact?

“One of the first challenges that I will have is a personal one. I'm brand new to MSU. No one knows me. Because of that I may not be trusted immediately and I may not gain the necessary buy-in to deploy the strategy that's currently being considered. But I am truly confident that this will change over time. And that will change over time as I begin to meet with people and learn more about them, the work that they do, their thoughts about the work that we should be doing, and how can we partner to do it together.

“I also know that there will be people on campus and off, students and colleagues, folks in the community, who may not fully understand or acknowledge this work is critical to promoting the overall success of the university. I want to be sure we spend time talking about that, engaging with people, understand what people's thoughts and beliefs are in order to make any clarification so that we can move forward together.

“Everyone has a role to play in helping move this important work of diversity, equity, and inclusion forward. I'll first say that we all have to embrace and leverage our own position and power as agents of change wherever we sit, whether we're students, faculty, staff, alumni, or members of the community. We also need to acknowledge that we are more similar than we are unalike. And when we do that I think that'll break down a lot of the misconceptions and potential hesitance that we have to engage and to help and assist in various ways. We have to spend time getting to know people who do not share all of our identities, I think that's really important. We have to treat people the way that we would like to be treated.

“I believe that we can make MSU an even more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and exemplary world-class institution if we all do our part. Just as we were forerunners and innovators that provided a model for land-grant institutions across the nation, we have an opportunity to lead the way and demonstrate what inclusive excellence looks like. And we can do this by modeling that behavior for our current and future students, faculty, staff, and alumni. I'm committed to doing my part and my team has been doing theirs. Now we must all decide the role we will play to help realize this vision and position MSU to be a beacon and an inspiration to our community, nation, and the world, especially during this period of diminished life, waning hope, and lack of compassion among many of us.”

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