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New office at WIU promotes equity and inclusivity

Carl Ervin in his office on the WIU campus in Macomb.
Rich Egger
Carl Ervin in his office on the WIU campus in Macomb.

As promised, Western Illinois University President Guiyou Huang has created the Office of Justice, Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity (JIDE).

Carl Ervin is interim director of the new office.

“Listening is so important. People have to have that relationship, and relationships are built with trust. And trust is built by following through on what you promise, following through on what you say,” Ervin said.

He came to WIU in December 2019 to be program director at the Multicultural Center, and was promoted to assistant director of the center in July 2021.

Ervin said that as interim director of JIDE, he wants to build a better, more inclusive community, and ensure that Western is a destination for students, faculty, and staff.

He said the conversations that create such changes might make some people uncomfortable at times, but he says it can be a good uncomfortable.

“Like when you run and exercise. It’s a little uncomfortable, but doesn’t it feel great when you’re done?” he said.

Ervin said his door is always open and he repeatedly emphasized that he is here to listen.

“That means making sure that transparency remains, making sure that any goals that we come up with are addressed, and the needs are met as best as we can,” he said.

Ervin said he’s working to address the list of demands the Black Student Association issued late last year. He said they are fair complaints about the campus.

“This is how students feel. What we’re about is representing the students’ point of view, advocating for our students, and making sure that all members of the community feel supported and advocated for,” he said.

“If they can grow, expand, and reach their full potential without these obstacles of complicit bias, unconscious bias, (and) things that get in the way. If we can help our students to feel better, if we can help our students by making the institution a fairer place, then yes, it’s fair. It’s right.”

The list includes:

  • Rebuild the African American Studies Department and allow students to major in the subject (note: African American Studies, Philosophy, Women’s Studies, and Religious Studies were eliminated as majors at WIU in 2016during the administration of Dr. Jack Thomas. All four are still offered as minors)
  • Include WIU’s Black students in the process of hiring teachers for the African American Studies Department
  • Require all WIU students to take two courses in the African American Studies Department: Intro to African American Studies and African American Literature
  • The institution should only support businesses in Macomb that support Black people and the Black Lives Matter movement
  • Hire more professors, staff, and student affairs professionals who are Black and increase the university’s ethnic diversity and racial makeup by 40%
  • Create a separate building for the Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center, which currently shares the Multicultural Center with several other organizations.
  • Mandate professors to complete diversity training that includes history of the current campus climate at WIU.
  • Create a more inclusive environment for the Black community through a student-centered approach

Ervin said he also wants to make sure Western is a place where diverse faculty want to be.
“Sometimes it’s difficult to have the numbers that we want as far as support and the diversity there. So what can we do to make WIU (faculty) feel like, ‘Hey, I want to stay. I want to be here,’” he said.

Ervin said successful institutions around the world embrace diversity because it enriches them by providing a multitude of perspectives.

As if running the JIDE office won’t keep Ervin busy enough, he has also just agreed to take on another new role. He is serving as acting director of the Multicultural Center.

Tri States Public Radio produced this story.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.

Rich is TSPR's News Director.