‘We need to make this a better world for all of us’: Whitt helms Creighton’s diversity, inclusion efforts

“When we talk about diversity, we’re not simply talking about the idea that if we walk on campus, there are a few people from a few different backgrounds. And, well, they’re here, so they’re included. No, it’s so much deeper than that.,” says Christopher Whitt, PhD, Creighton University’s first vice provost for Institutional Diversity and Inclusion. “We need to do it collectively, respecting the fact that not everyone has the same experience in the world.”

It’s kind of ironic that Christopher Whitt, PhD, Creighton’s first vice provost for Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, works at a Jesuit university.

Growing up in Baltimore, he attended Mount St. Joseph High School, which is affiliated with the Xaverian Brothers. When it came to athletics, the nearby Jesuit school was their biggest rival.

His first experience with Jesuit education was at Marquette University in Milwaukee, where he completed a one-year diversity dissertation fellowship.

“I recognized the potential for progress in diversity and inclusion that exists at a centrally located Jesuit institution in an urban area,” Whitt says.

After earning a bachelor’s degree from Salisbury University in Maryland, Whitt received his master’s and doctoral degrees in political science from the University of Maryland, College Park.

“From a young age, I was interested in politics. I was looking for a way to become educated and skilled in seeking justice, seeking avenues of equity for people,” Whitt says.

Eleven years ago, he joined the faculty at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. In his first year as a professor, he co-founded an Africana studies program, which looked at the entire African diaspora rather than being limited to a particular place.

He also extended his influence into the larger Quad Cities community, with his podcast “Margins: Conversations with Change Agents.” Hosted on the local NPR station, “Margins” brought community and national leaders together to discuss issues. Whitt is in talks with Omaha NPR station KIOS to develop a similar podcast.

Whitt joined Creighton in February and now lives in Omaha with his wife, Quiana, a teacher at Omaha North High School, and their 1-year-old son, Christopher Jr. Creighton magazine caught up with Whitt recently to talk about his background, the new post at the university and his early impressions.

Q: What is meant by ‘diversity and inclusion’?

Whitt: I like to look at it through the lens of justice and solidarity. When we talk about diversity, we’re not simply talking about the idea that if we walk on campus, there are a few people from a few different backgrounds. And, well, they’re here, so they’re included.

No, it’s so much deeper than that. We need to make this a better world for all of us. We need to do it collectively, respecting the fact that not everyone has the same experience in the world. Fostering a welcoming and inclusive community must be our priority.

Q: What are some of your initiatives?

Whitt: My first few months here have been a listening tour … to get perspectives on what people feel is working when it comes to diversity and inclusion, what is missing and where there needs to be change.

I’ve found a lot of amazing work being done at Creighton University. But we need to collectively organize it to bring people in line with a unified vision.

Q: What’s the current state of diversity and inclusion at Creighton?

Whitt: I think there’s a lot of good will, a lot of good intention. A lot of people are willing to collaborate. And that’s the only way we are going to continue to make progress. Diversity and inclusion is a collaborative effort.

I look at myself as more of a coordinator, a coach, where I’m setting a standard and direction. I’ve had a very warm welcome and that really encourages me that we’ll be successful in taking the good things we have going now and strengthening them.

What have you learned over the years working in this area?

Whitt: I think decades ago, people were more satisfied with simply having the numbers, even if people felt like they were visitors. I’ve heard it so many times from students of underrepresented groups. They get to graduation and say, “I made it. I’m getting out. I’m moving on.” That’s not how people should feel. We want people to feel like this has been an amazing experience, and ask, “How can I continue to be connected in some shape or form?”

Creighton University offers a top-ranked education in the Jesuit, Catholic tradition — and a welcoming, supportive environment to a diverse community of educators, professionals and support staff. Read more about the university, and connect with Creighton on Facebook,  Twitter  and Instagram.

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