Dr. Dakesa Piña joined the College of Education (COE) in spring 2021 as the first college-level diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) officer at Illinois State. With a Ph.D. in marriage and family therapy from Texas Tech University, Piña joined Illinois State in 2010 as a counselor in Student Counseling Services (SCS) within the Division of Student Affairs. In 2014, as part of a Student Affairs initiative to assess the inclusivity across each of its departments, Piña was chosen to lead the DEI efforts in Student Counseling. Since then, she became heavily involved and fell in love with DEI work.

“This work fits perfectly with my identities as a scientist, practitioner, and advocate,” said Piña. “I love seeing how a culture can shift to be more welcoming and inclusive.”

“I was thrilled that Dakesa agreed to join the College of Education,” said Dean James Wolfinger. “Her combination of warmth, graciousness, determination, and strategic thinking have made her an ideal Diversity Officer for us. I can’t wait to see how her work pays off in making our college an even stronger, more inclusive place for faculty, staff, students, and alumni.”

We sat down with Piña to get to know her and learn about her passion for DEI work.

What will you work on during your first year in this role?
My hope is to get to know as many of our COE stakeholders (i.e. students, faculty, staff, and alumni) as possible. The process of building relationships and honoring stakeholders’ lived experiences is extremely important to creating significant and sustainable DEI change. It will also be important to debunk the myth that DEI only focuses on race.

DEI focuses on diversity, equity, and inclusion for many different identities including religious identity, veteran status, gender expression, racial identity, ability, and more. We want an inclusive community for every single member of the Illinois State COE community.

I will also gather data on all the DEI work that is happening in the COE to create a database that can be accessed by COE stakeholders. There are many amazing DEI initiatives already happening in the college and once the information is gathered, we can identify any gaps in achieving our COE DEI goals.

What does diversity, equity, and inclusion mean to you?
Diversity is about harnessing the innovative power of diverse lenses. If you’ve ever interacted with a culture that is different than your own, you know that there is much to learn from other lenses including how to solve complex problems. Many government agencies and Fortune 500 companies value diversity because of increased skill, innovation, and productivity that a diverse workforce can provide.

Equity looks at providing those with marginalized identities with resources and treatment that supports advancement and advocates for justice. Equity includes identifying and eliminating barriers for the historically underrepresented and underserved. Often equity can create an unease or fear that those with dominant identities will become oppressed or something will be “taken away,” but instead, equity is about restorative practices that improve and repair relationships, build healthy communities, and foster healing dialogues.

I see inclusion as working to eliminate unjust bias and creating systems with shared governance. Inclusion values all voices especially those that have traditionally been devalued in decision making.

How do you plan to work with faculty, staff, and students across the college to create a more equitable and inclusive environment?
I see my role as supporting efforts to assess and implement diversity, equity, and inclusion in the COE. This might include education on how to have difficult conversations, practice cultural humility, or myths about DEI. It may include consultation regarding practices, policies, and procedures that support meeting the College’s DEI goals. An important part of my role will be to help create sustainable systemic change for the COE.