Creating greater diversity, equity and inclusion at Creighton

Jan 20, 2022

We spoke with Sarah Walker, PhD, vice president of the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, about her goals, priorities and hopes for Creighton’s future.

Featured Testimonial About Creighton University

It’s important we keep up this momentum and do what we need to do to create a place where everyone will flourish.

Sarah Walker, PhD Vice president of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Want to support the many exciting initiatives of the Division of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion? Here’s how you can help!

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By Micah Mertes

What’s the primary focus of Creighton’s Division of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in 2022?

Sarah Walker, PhD
Sarah Walker, PhD

“Everything,” Sarah Walker, PhD, says with a smile. “I want us to do everything we can this year.”

Walker — a professor in the Heider College of Business — stepped into the role of vice president of the newly created Division of EDI late last year after several months as interim VP. Her list of goals and priorities is a long one, but they all set out to answer one question:

How do we do something that’s not what we’ve always done?

“There are some things we’re doing really well as a university,” Walker says. “There are some opportunities for us to get better. We — as faculty, students and staff — do not yet reflect the communities that we serve.

“We’ve seen some significant gains since a cabinet-level position in diversity and inclusion was created in 2018, and it’s important we keep up this momentum and do what we need to do to create a place where everyone will flourish.”

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Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Walker’s vision for the division lives in the order of those three words.

Walker: “We start with equity, in the spirit of our Jesuit, Catholic values. It’s about concern for the person, and we know that marginalized individuals have different experiences and needs and that it is imperative that we meet those needs.

“We know an equitable organization will attract more diverse talent.

“And we know that an organization that implements inclusive practices will retain that diversity.”

Recruitment and retention

From an internal perspective, Walker’s priority is to bring a greater diversity of talented students, faculty and staff to Creighton and make sure they want to stay at Creighton.

For attracting and retaining employees, that means working to make policies and practices as equitable as possible. It’s about asking the right questions.

How does Creighton post jobs? What’s in the job description? How is Creighton helping to advance individuals throughout the organization?

Formal steps are underway. An employee resource group launched last fall. Last year, Creighton conducted a campus-wide climate survey of faculty, staff and students to help determine what initiatives will best foster a sense of inclusion and belonging at the University. Results will be forthcoming in spring 2022.

For recruitment and retention of students, meanwhile, the biggest barrier continues to be the cost of attendance, Walker says.

“Scholarships are the key to providing more opportunities for underrepresented minorities. Funds like the Union Pacific Diversity Scholarship and the Next Generation Leaders Scholarship are doing so much to support individuals who haven’t historically been in these spaces.”

But ultimately, she says, Creighton needs more full-tuition scholarships to create a more diverse campus.

Cedora Barnett, BA’07, assistant director for Retention and Identity Development, was a first-generation, low-income student when she attended Creighton, and she sees the need for scholarships that focus on both of those areas specifically.

“We need to award scholarships to students who would not be at Creighton without that aid,” Barnett says. “We need to create opportunities for the students who don’t even think about Creighton as an option.”

Because everyone, she says, should have access to the transformative experience Creighton offers.

“Creighton made me a better, more compassionate human being, and I see that reflected in our students here. There are so many people here who are willing to advocate for others who don’t have the same opportunities. That’s something we do well and should be proud of.”

And, Walker says, it’s about so much more than students being able to come to Creighton. It’s about them being able “to participate in the life of Creighton.”

“The students we retain are really embedded in the campus community. That means mission trips or student activities or studying abroad. If you do not have enough money to do these things, you are not fully experiencing everything Creighton has to offer.

“We have to have the resources to give our students the opportunities to really engage, and as a result they will be more likely to persist, to stay and to graduate.”

Community outreach

The Division of EDI will also ensure that Creighton continues to expand outward, engaging with the community and strengthening the University’s relationship to Omaha. In particular, Walker says, our neighbors to the north and south.

Recently, Creighton celebrated a week of events around Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In February, the University will launch a Presidential Lecture Series focused on race. These events are open to everyone, at Creighton and in the surrounding communities.

“Our goal is to use these events as a launchpad,” Walker says, “to change discussions and change experiences and increase inclusivity here at Creighton.”

The outreach and programing are a chance to show everyone that this is Creighton. This is who we are.

“I came to Creighton for the people,” Walker says “There is such a willingness to want to grow and develop. I do not think that is true everywhere.

“It’s exciting to know that in the students, faculty, staff, alumni and leaders, I have true partners who want us to be better. Who believe that we can be.”

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Want to support the many exciting initiatives of the Division of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion? Make a gift to diversity and inclusion today!