Two women from different areas of the nation ended up at the same University with one common goal – to stress the importance of diversity to the students of Illinois State University. Diversity Specialists for the Dean of Students Office Ashley Taylor and Brittany Stokes work together to provide diversity support for the campus community.
Taylor serves as the diversity programming specialist, where her primary focus is to provide diversity education to the entire campus community through initiatives. She is in charge of booking speakers, retreats and symposiums for faculty, staff and students.
“The events can be small-scale programs anywhere from five to over 500 people,” said Taylor, who earned her master’s degree in higher education administration from Ball State University in Indiana. Here at Illinois State, one day might find Taylor bringing a director of a documentary to campus, and the next booking entertainment for the popular Café Soul event.
Stokes acts as an advisor for the four underrepresented student groups on campus: Association of Latin American Students (ALAS); Asian Pacific American Coalition (APAC); ISU PRIDE, the student organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and ally students; and the Black Student Union (BSU). On a daily basis she works with 40 students, providing them with leadership development. “Each of these groups has an important role representing members of campus,” said Stokes, who came to Illinois State from the University of South Florida.
More than simply programming and advising, the duo helps bring new initiatives to life. It was Diversity Advocacy where sophomore Robert Alberts turned when he wanted to put in a bid for the 2015 Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Transgender Ally College Conference to come to Illinois State. “I walked into Brittany’s office and said, ‘We have to do this,’ and Brittany listened,” said Alberts.
Stokes and Taylor have collaborated to bring a new event to campus this year as well, the Black and Latino Male Summit. Again, the initiative was brought to their attention by Illinois State students. “Seventeen students attended a similar event at the University of Illinois last year,” said Stokes. The students came back from the event and proposed that Diversity Advocacy have a summit here. The office was open to the idea, and helped secure funding.
Efforts like the Summit are high points for the pair, who say they hope to “make a mark” for diversity on campus. “As an institution of higher education, we are training future doctors, lawyers and social workers. It is very important to learn other people’s backgrounds and interact with different people to understand the concept of privilege and how societal norms have shaped our way of thinking,” said Taylor. “We need to be able to challenge biases that we may have when going into a field and working with various types of people.”
Stokes agreed. “When you have a connection where you engage with someone who has a different perspective than you, it gives you awareness of yourself,” she said.