In Aug. 2023, Sacred Heart University (SHU) launched its first ever Inclusive Excellence Fellows Cohort, an initiative designed to bring together faculty and staff members to lead efforts that support the university’s goal of inclusive excellence.
The cohort consists of eight fellows who were selected from a competitive list of faculty and staff applicants, who have been engaging with this fellowship throughout this past semester.
“It was important for me that the fellows we selected were already coming in with some experience and actually leading or participating in diversity and inclusive initiatives,” said Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Maurice Nelson. “Having an interest and being organically connected to the concept is important, but in addition having the first-hand experience was really important to us.”
Nelson introduced this fellowship this Aug. as he began his second year at the university. He was previously an Inclusive Excellence Fellow at Georgia Southern University, which is where his inspiration came from.
“This was always something I knew that if I occupied a Chief Diversity and Inclusive Officer position, I would be implementing this program,” Nelson said. “It was impactful to me, but I also saw in real time how it positively raised awareness for diversity and inclusive excellence.”
Each candidate had to submit a two-page personal statement on their background and inclusive excellence- related work, their current resume, and a letter of support from their supervisor.
Ololade Afolabi, Rebekah Byrd, Mark Congdon, Jr., Raheem Davis, Susan Goncalves, Katie Kroeper, Deirdra Preis, and Callie Tabor were each specifically selected to serve as a fellow for a two-year term.
Each fellow is responsible for working with the Office for Inclusive Excellence (OIE) on research engagement and projects which are consistent with the OIE mission and the Pioneer Plan for Inclusive Excellence.
Congdon, Assistant Professor of Communication, is excited to continue his own learning and growing through the different professional development opportunities he will be doing, as well as learning from and with the fellows.
“One thing I think is exciting about this program is that it directly aligns with the university’s social justice mission, where we are focusing on educating the whole student body,” Congdon said. “I think the work we are all doing reinforces to live out and embody the mission of the university.”
Throughout their two-year term, the fellows will engage in inclusive leadership professional development, complete two cohort projects, complete individual projects, and overall enhance the inclusive excellence initiatives.
“We are able to work really well and collaborate together which is really important,” Congdon said. “The projects we are working on individually or in pairs as well as a cohort are more enjoyable and effective because we are really a team.”
Ololade Afolabi, a lecturer in the School of Communication, Media, and the Arts, specializes in gender and media studies, international communication, and critical cultural studies. According to a statement from the university, Afolabi said, “The fellowship opens up a new dialogue on the seriousness of diversity and inclusion discourse on campus. Beyond just talking about this, I see the fellowship bringing actionable outcomes that can create a more inclusive campus community here at SHU.”
Afolabi brings scholarship experience in researching issues related to recognition among women of color. Junior Julia Leak, who serves as Tradition Chair on SHU’s Student Government Council, is looking forward to what this cohort will bring to the university.
“It’s comforting to know that our university is always looking for ways to better themselves, especially in the field of diversity, equity, and inclusion,” said Leak. “As a member of Student Government, it’s inspiring to see that not only students, but faculty and staff can come together and lead our school.”