OEOA: Working toward a welcoming community
For Tony Walesby, joining Illinois State University’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Access (OEOA) is a continuation of a career devoted to service.
The office oversees and enforces the prevention and detection of and the response to violations to federal, state, and University non-discrimination and anti-harassment laws, statues, and policies. The office also provides guidance, support, and programming to foster a more diverse and welcoming campus community.
Walesby, who took over the position of director in December of 2016, puts it more simply. “Do all of our faculty, staff, students, and visitors feel as welcome in our community as they should? If not, why?” he said. “Redbirds are here to learn, to teach, to work, to grow, and that is difficult if one is in an environment that is not welcoming, not supportive, and if there’s discrimination or harassment present.”
Walesby spent eight years as a federal investigator with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Washington, D.C., and Chicago, and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in Chicago.
His background matches the exacting need for a transparent reporting process, accompanied with a value of the privacy for those reporting. “I always tell anyone who comes forward, ‘I don’t know what the outcome will be of your particular matter, but I will promise we’ll treat you with respect,’” said Walesby. He added that the process will be fair and thorough, and people will have every opportunity to provide any information they believe will be helpful.
A first-generation, non-traditional alumnus, Walesby graduated from Illinois State in 1991, after serving four years in the U.S. Navy. His work as a federal investigator instilled a desire to be part of the solution. “I’d travel to a campus to help them address a particular matter, then head back to my office while other people worked full-time to make their campuses better,” he said. “Over time, I started to think about working on a college campus and helping the community be a more welcoming, supportive, and respectful environment that is free from discrimination and harassment.”
Walesby decided to join higher education in 1999 when he left the federal government to work in the Office of Equal Opportunity and Access at the University of Illinois. After four years, he joined the University of Michigan’s Office of Institutional Equity. In his role at U of I and Michigan, he was responsible for diversity, inclusion, and civil rights programming as well as conducting investigations into allegations of discrimination and harassment.
After 13 years at Michigan, Walesby was excited to see an opening at his alma mater. “I thought it might be nice to return to the place it started for me–Illinois State,” he said.
According to Walesby, OEOA has a responsibility to the campus community to do more than investigate possible violations. “We will conduct very fair, very thorough investigations, but we’ll also be doing training and outreach,” he said. “We should be more than a compliance office, and we need to be a proactive partner in developing training that is meaningful and will make an impact on campus.”
Along with trainings, Walesby said the office is interested in co-sponsoring events and talks that bring a sense of awareness to campus and the community. “There are a lot of things we don’t think about day-to-day. But I want OEOA to be viewed as a valuable campus partner that supports and provides guidance to help people understand one another and to help create and foster a welcoming campus community for everyone.”
Find out more information on the OEOA website, and by calling the office at (309) 438-3383.