Building a University of Kansas for ALL

Advancing diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging takes many hands

To sustain excellence, institutions of higher learning cannot rest on the ideas, practices and successes of yesterday. The University of Kansas is no exception. KU reaffirmed its commitment to continual progress with the recently launched Jayhawks Rising strategic plan. The plan’s vision is “to be an exceptional learning community that lifts each other and advances society.”

In order to be an exceptional learning environment, the university believes it must lead among peers as a learning and workplace environment that is representative of our society, accepts and values everyone, appreciates our common humanity and recognizes our differences are the cornerstone of academic preparation and professional distinction. This purpose is at the core of KU’s Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging, led by Interim Vice Provost D.A. Graham.

Leading with purpose

“KU is the flagship when it comes to educating Kansans and exporting this experience into the world,” Graham said. “That’s why leadership in diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) is so important, so we can stand in front of these issues rather than running behind them.”

The work related to DEIB never ends, but it can evolve. “Improving DEIB at the University of Kansas is one of 13 objectives of Jayhawks Rising,” Graham said. “The goal for the future is to not have DEIB as an objective, but for it to be infused in every area going forward — regardless if the objective involves research, retention and recruitment, student success or building healthy communities.”

KU has developed an organizational structure to align DEIB work across the university. There are now three assistant vice provost positions, one each for faculty, staff and students. Equity advisors (assistant/associate deans and vice chancellors) named by the university are part of academic and administrative leadership teams at the school and divisional levels. They will serve as advisors and develop programs and initiatives regarding DEIB for the schools and administrative units. “The plan is to cascade the work to allow more hands to do this labor,” Graham said.

Everyone can be involved in the effort by educating themselves about the important issues of what it means to be anti-oppressive, inclusive and equitable. The university and many campus organizations host regular activities, learning opportunities and professional development sessions on campus.


Considerations for health care

All KU campuses strive to align DEIB goals, strategies and educational programming. KU Medical Center Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Jerrihlyn McGee, DNP, RN, CNE, also is a nurse and clinical associate professor in the KU School of Nursing. This experience contributes to her understanding of the need for DEIB in education and health care.

McGee is leading the effort to create an environment that is equitable where students, faculty and staff feel included. A primary goal is increasing the diversity of graduating classes and faculty with more representation of historically excluded groups, which could include people of color, individuals identifying as LGBTQIA+ and people with disabilities.


According to McGee, diversity in health care is more important now than ever before because of the changing landscape of the U.S. The country is becoming more diverse racially and ethnically, and the population is getting older. “It’s important for us to attract and graduate students who can respond to the needs of a diverse and aging demographic,” she said. “We also need to ensure all graduates are able to provide culturally responsive care and influence policy decisions.”

No one would argue that recent times have been challenging, and health-related concerns have been front and center. “COVID-19 revealed health disparities and inequities for people of color and our elderly populations that many of us knew always existed,” McGee said. “This is an opportunity for us to address disparities, become better as a nation and become more united.”

Role of philanthropy

Support for students from underrepresented backgrounds and funding for DEIB programs and initiatives are priorities for the university.

“Providing more scholarships for students is important for increasing diversity,” McGee said. “Financial issues are a big reason why students either don’t go to college or don’t finish.”

Among the university’s “dream items” is to have dedicated centers for the most vulnerable students and faculty and staff — a place they can go and feel safe, supported and nurtured.

Graham adds, “If it wasn’t for donors with a passion for creating a more equitable environment, a lot of our students, faculty and staff would not have opportunities to study, work and research the way they are. We hope people will continue to give and allow us to offer opportunities to those who have been on the margins in the past.”

Graham and McGee expressed that working toward a more diverse and inclusive university is a community effort and extremely rewarding.

“I am a three-time graduate of the University of Kansas, and I’m inspired by the hard work we do every day and by the people who work here,” McGee said. “I am proud to serve this institution in the capacity I do and to be on this road to greater.”

Valerie Gieler

Donors making a difference

Donors have already begun to show their support for underrepresented students at the University of Kansas and KU Medical Center.

Barbara Sheffield Medical Scholarship — GEHA, via its subsidiary GEHA Solutions, established this scholarship in 2021 with a $1.5 million grant to address the lack of diversity in the physician workforce. This year’s cohort of scholars includes eight Black medical students, putting this year’s class on pace to be the most diverse in the KU School of Medicine’s history. “Research has shown that racism, discrimination and unconscious bias continue to plague the U.S. health care system and cause unequal treatment for racial and ethnic minorities,” said GEHA President & CEO Arthur A. Nizza, DSW.

These KU Student Portraits feature twin brothers Andrew and Benjamin Jones, two of the first recipients of the Barbara Sheffield Memorial Scholarship.


Chad A. Leat Student Scholarship — KU alumnus Chad Leat, of New York, N.Y., established this scholarship in 2006 and added a $1 million gift commitment in 2018 in support of LGBT students at KU. “Being able to provide opportunities to diverse students, and LGBT students in particular, means so much to me,” Leat said. “This gift will establish this scholarship as a much larger and more meaningful investment in the LGBT community here at KU for a long time.”

Stueve Siegel Hanson Law Scholarship — Stueve Siegel Hanson, a law firm based in Kansas City, Mo., has given a $1 million gift to establish a scholarship for Black students at the KU School of Law. “Our firm’s core values include the pursuit of justice and active investment in our profession and our community,” said Patrick Stueve, a partner in the firm and KU Law alumnus. “We are committed to being agents of positive change, and we are committed to real action.”

E. Eugene Carter Foundation Opportunity Award — This annual award benefits female Hispanic students in the KU School of Engineering. The award provides up to $20,000 per student annually to pay off subsidized federal loans upon graduation. Gene Carter, of Arlington, Mass., hopes the award encourages students to complete their degree. “My wife’s experience as a young refugee and my childhood ties to Kansas greatly inspired me,” he said.


KU’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion And Belonging Priorities

Access and success — attracting, retaining and supporting diversity among faculty, staff and the student body.

Institutional climate and intergroup relations — fostering a positive and welcoming climate where all are valued, included and supported.

Education and scholarship — engaging students, faculty and staff in learning a variety of perspectives of domestic and international DEIB and social justice.

Institutional infrastructure — creating opportunities to develop greater impact around purchasing, procurement and vendor selection.

Community engagement — providing more opportunities for civic engagement and service especially with marginalized communities. They want to develop a “communiversity.”