Hackettstown-based Centenary University has established a new Diversity, Inclusion, Belonging Advisory Board to advise President Bruce Murphy, Ed.D., on initiatives that lead to meaningful dialogue and action. Comprised of a cross-section of the University’s leadership, the board will provide input on a broad range of experiences on campus, from instruction and extracurricular activities to decisions regarding admissions, financial assistance, athletics, and more.
Last winter, Centenary embarked on a strategic planning process that defined four imperatives, one of which centers on fostering an inclusive environment on campus and in the surrounding community. Dr. Murphy accelerated the effort to establish the advisory board when national events brought issues of race and belonging to the forefront last spring and summer. “This is a long-term, institutionalized effort to ensure that Centenary moves forward in a very deliberate way that considers the experiences of all members of our campus community,” Dr. Murphy explained. “Our goal is to create meaningful, lasting change that enhances the feeling of belonging among all constituents within our campus community.”
Dr. Murphy appointed Devon Vialva, assistant dean of diversity and director of Centenary’s Educational Opportunity Program, to chair the new advisory board. A 1997 graduate of Centenary, Vialva earned a master’s in public administration from the University in 2008 and is currently pursuing a doctorate at Centenary. Under his leadership, the advisory board’s first activity was to host a listening session last summer to provide alumni and students of color with the opportunity to share their experiences and offer input on creating lasting change. “Belonging is the key that really brings all of this together,” Vialva said. “Students and alumni need to feel that they belong at Centenary. This process is going to take some time and planning, as well as some very, very tough, but necessary, conversations about racial and cultural identity to make sure that we’re being inclusive.”
A recent $2 million bequest from the late Louise M. Monez Hill, a 1940 Centenary graduate, will help to support the efforts of the advisory board. Hill’s gift will establish The Grace Y. Bissett and Louise Monez Hill Scholarship Fund, a diversity-based scholarship to support the education of students with financial need who intend to pursue a career in teaching, religion, social work, or a similar field, and who are devoted to improving racial relations.
Vialva noted that while the advisory board may suggest some short-term activities, the focus is on creating lasting change: “Everyone on this board is strategically placed throughout the University in crucial roles. We are here to be a part of growth and to assist in starting the conversation. It’s a long road ahead of us and we understand that.”
Dr. Murphy added, “I look for great things from this advisory board. We’re sort of in the early stages now, but we have some great hopes for this effort. It’s very necessary and important.”
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