people seated in round tables in a room facing a woman at a podium
Dr. Doris Houston addresses the EDI Leaders Circle at Hancock Stadium Club.

Advocate-leaders from across campus gathered to discuss their plans and strategies to advance equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) at Illinois State University.   

person standing while others sit at a table
Facilitator Jennifer McNeil, standing, listened to Dr. Li Zeng at the EDI Leaders Circle in Fall 2021.

More than 70 people, representing hundreds of faculty and staff members, across campus came together for the inaugural EDI Leaders Circle Retreat. Those attending were leaders of the nearly 40 department, college, and division-level councils and committees focused on advancing EDI efforts.  

“It can be challenging for people to move beyond how we have always done things,” said Interim Assistant to the President for Diversity and Inclusion Dr. Doris Houston, who organized the retreat through the Office of the President. “The EDI Leaders Circle is an opportunity to build a community of support, and information-sharing for those creating a foundation of equity for our University.”   

people around a table
Dr. Deneca Winfrey-Avant, Dr. Muhua Biswas, Dr. Jeff Helms, and Brian Beam

Participants, led by facilitator Julie McNeil of McNeil and Associates, LLC., asked questions, discussed resources, and shared advice for those starting a new an EDI committee. They also verbalized the importance of support from every level of University leadership. Participants had an opportunity to learn from their peers during the virtual panel segment titled “Bold Moves in Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion”.  Panel members Dr. Mary Dyck, Dr. Rocío Rivadeneyra, Dr. Diane Zosky, and Dr. Pamela Cooper, described innovative approaches they have implemented to promote equity, diversity, and inclusion in student admissions, university honor’s curricula, administrative searches, and student career preparation.  

two people seated at a table
From left, Dr. Eda Ozyesilpinar and Dr. Rocío Rivadeneyra at the EDI Leaders Circle in Fall 2021.

“There’s strength and value in being on one accord in our EDI efforts. The Leaders Circle provided a wealth of resources, accountability, and an opportunity to learn what’s working, and identify areas in need of development,” said Nikita Richards, who serves on the Illinois State University Alumni Association Board of Directors. “I left with the assurance that this will not be a one-and-done checkbox endeavor, but instead a unified, top-down and throughout commitment to transformational change.”

Houston was assisted by McNeil in unveiling a newly developed planning framework for EDI leaders, the Pillars of Progress. Developed by Houston, the “Pillars” offer a framework for leaders to evaluate their progress and readiness for change across 10 dimensions of equity and inclusion. Each tool is designed to promote reflection, community and relationship building, transparency, accountability, growth, and targeted change. “Without progress in these important foundational areas, it becomes difficult to actuate meaningful change,” said Houston.