Q&A with Lisa Givan: What does a Director of Diversity and Inclusion do?

In recent decades, the landscape of higher education has changed. Visit any college campus, and it’s not unusual to see students of all races and cultures represented among the student body. In other words, higher education has largely been democratized, and with that shift comes a need to ensure every student feels welcomed and heard on campus.

Nationwide, colleges and universities are answering that call with the formation of offices of diversity and inclusion. In northeast Indiana, Indiana Tech has stepped up to the plate with its own contributions to fostering a diverse campus.

On June 27, 2018, Lisa Givan became the first leader of Indiana Tech's Office for Diversity and Inclusion when she was named its Associate Vice President and the university’s Chief Diversity Officer.

As she celebrates a year on the job, Input Fort Wayne sat down with Givan to hear her thoughts about what a Director of Diversity and Inclusion does, her new college community, and her plans for the future.

Indiana Tech is offering more educational opportunities to compete in the global economy.

IFW: In 2018, Indiana Tech’s strategic plan task force identified the continued development of a vibrant, inclusive and diverse culture that connects all of our campuses and locations. What might that look like?

LG: In aligning with the strategic plan of the university, my vision for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion is to create a foundation for the future where inclusive excellence is a core value. In order to advance this properly, we will adopt five goals along with a series of measurable implementation actions. The five goals of this initiative encompass: climate, recruitment and retention, education and training, community building, and communication. Our team is hard at work developing and implementing a plan that is strategically sustainable while strengthening and leveraging partnerships within the university and external communities.

IFW: How does your role fit in with the university’s larger mission?
LG: My role as Associate Vice-President of Diversity & Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer serves as part of the University's mission to advance and support diversity. Our office was charged with an overarching goal of developing a vibrant, inclusive, and diverse culture which connects all campuses and locations. Through the trainings, community events, faculty dialogues, and student experiences we have offered throughout the year, we strive to connect everything back to this goal.

Specifically, we hosted Indiana Tech's first-ever community-wide Martin Luther King Jr. celebration which was part of the 2018-2019 Strategic Plan. We also initiated the Alternative Spring Break Trip, which will also be an annual occurrence. These trips will entail service-oriented and civic engagement-based activities to learn and engage in new cultures. This past March, the Alternative Spring Break group traveled to Memphis, and next year we will take a group to Atlanta. 
The distinctive thing about Indiana Tech is that, although we are classified as a PWI (Predominately White Institution), more than 49 percent of our students are either global or domestically diverse. This is a unique opportunity for our students to be actively immersed and engaged in the exploration of “difference” on a daily basis. Not the kind of difference that separates us, but rather, the appreciation and valuing of difference in which we all learn through knowledge sharing and creating a sense of community.

Indiana Tech has a diverse student body.

IFW: Prior to joining Indiana Tech, you played a significant role in the diversity and inclusion initiatives at Kent State University. What are some of your proudest accomplishments while there?

LG: Kent State taught me who Lisa was. I partnered with Kent State after a mid-life career
change. I had previously transitioned from corporate America to higher education, and I was still new to navigating the terrain. Kent exposed me to not only the field of higher education, but it also illuminated my gift of being a change agent.

With the exception of my initial role at Kent, every role after that was inaugural and catered to not only my skill set, but also my passion. Kent State allowed me to grow and positively affect change for students, staff, faculty, and community members. I will forever be grateful for that.

While I won’t deny that winning the Society for Diversity’s national Award for Innovation and Inclusive Excellence in Education was a great accomplishment, my biggest accomplishments have to be the graduation invitations from students who I have worked with; the weddings and baby showers I get invited to from alumni; the mentees that I see doing great things and effectively creating best practices with which we can advance this work.

Those are the things that make me feel like I did something right along my journey.

IFW: What do you enjoy about the culture at Indiana Tech?

LG: Indiana Tech has embraced me with open arms. We have some amazing students here. You know, as you begin to move into senior administration, you begin to lose touch with students as you’re pulled into the various meetings and activities of leading the institution. I have been fortunate to be able to keep a “high touch” with the students. They come to me to discuss their academics, aspirations, and apprehensions. I have begun to refer to them as my “Tech babies.” My colleagues have been nothing but the best. They have shown me great support, patience, and understanding.

IFW: You are in the process of becoming a Certified Diversity Executive. What's the distinction of this credential?
LG: The Certified Diversity Executive (CDE) credential is offered through the Institute for Diversity Certification and reinforces the need for organizations to lead inclusion from the top. The program targets experienced leaders in the field of cultural competency and acts as an agent to increase their credibility in the field of equity, diversity, and inclusion. I should complete the certification through the Institute for Diversity Certification this year.

Lisa Givan poses at the 2018 Global Leadership Summit
IFW: What advice would you have for other higher ed institutions or other organizations wanting to invest in a position like yours?

LG: “Know what you know and what you don’t know.”
As educators and experts, sometimes it’s difficult for us to realize our role in solving problems. My suggestion for any school or company who is seeking to shift culture is to first recognize, and accept, what you know and what you don’t know. Often we overlook the importance of our lens in an area.

As a leader, I may be savvy enough to see that there is a need, but I may not be equipped to fill that void. Transformational leaders need to understand how the creation of a Chief Diversity Officer will cause them to shift some as well. There is a fear of the unknown with anything new. However, in order for the person in the position to flourish, you must exercise trust.  

IFW: What's next on your radar? What are you currently working on? 

LG: Next month, we will host our first L.E.A.D. Summit (Leadership. Engagement. Action. Diversity). This is a one-day conference which includes a variety of concurrent sessions, cross-disciplinary networking opportunities, and keynote speakers. We have enlisted the skills and expertise from 12 facilitators in the corporate arena, academia, non-profit, and health care sectors. Participants in the L.E.A.D. Summit will cultivate a deeper understanding of how to lead with intentionally. They will have the opportunity to create their own personalized schedule by choosing from various offerings.
This conference is extremely dear to my heart, and the main objective is twofold. First, as a community girl, my intention is to have the conference provide an opportunity for the cooperative spirit of development by focusing on skill enhancement in various leadership-focused sessions. In an era where fiscal responsibility is key, we must offer tangible, transferable skill enhancement at an affordable cost. 

Secondly, the L.E.A.D. Summit has a larger goal of raising funds to support a scholarship for diverse students. The Diverse Student Persistence Award is aimed at assisting marginalized Juniors and Seniors toward the completion of their degree. Our department is passionate about ensuring our students face the least amount of barriers possible on the road to graduation and employment, and we believe this scholarship will provide an opportunity for students to persist and became Tech alum.

Leadership. Engagement. Action. Diversity (L.E.A.D.) Summit

Friday, Sept. 27 | 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Learn more and register at diversity.indianatech.edu/lead-summit/.

Read more articles by Lauren Caggiano.

Lauren Caggiano is a Fort Wayne-based writer. A 2007 graduate of the University of Dayton, she returned to Northeast Indiana to pursue a career. In the past 12 years she has worked in journalism, public relations, marketing, and digital media. She currently writes for several local, regional, and national publications.
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