Diversity Chief Seeks to Build Culture of Inclusion

Associate vice president and chief diversity officer Joelle Murchison speaks with students before a forum on the recent violence seen in Orlando held at the Student Union Ballroom on Oct. 4, 2016. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
Associate vice president and chief diversity officer Joelle Murchison speaks with students before a forum on the recent violence seen in Orlando held at the Student Union Ballroom on Oct. 4, 2016. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Strong Husky pride, the protective nature of UConn’s culture, and a willingness to make the University a better place all provide an excellent foundation for improving and promoting diversity and inclusion, says Joelle Murchison as she begins her tenure as UConn’s associate vice president and chief diversity officer.

Joelle Murchison speaks, center, speaks with Fleurette King, director, and William Malavé, administrator at the Rainbow Center before a forum on the recent violence seen in Orlando held at the Student Union Ballroom on Oct. 4, 2016. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
Joelle Murchison, center, speaks with Fleurette King, director, and William Malavé, administrator at the Rainbow Center, before a forum on the recent violence in Orlando, Fla. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

The position is new, and her task isn’t easy. However, Murchison is eagerly forging ahead, embracing all that UConn has to offer while looking for new ways to create meaningful dialogue that will bring the University community closer together.

“We want to make sure everyone realizes that they are valued,” she says.

Murchison, who was most recently the vice president of enterprise diversity and inclusion for The Travelers Companies Inc., joined UConn’s administration July 5 after an extensive search. She reports directly to UConn President Susan Herbst.

During her first three months at UConn, Murchison has been busy learning about the University and its programs and establishing relationships with students and staff. She also created a calendar of diversity and inclusion events for the fall semester, including those sponsored by UConn’s cultural centers and a few ambitious projects of her own.

This is a start to the dialogue – not the end. — Joelle Murchison

What’s on Your Mind: An Open Forum kicked off Murchison’s efforts. The Sept. 12 event offered an opportunity for students and staff at all campuses to talk in a safe space about issues they might be facing or issues that have been in the news.

“It is an opportunity to connect all of UConn,” Murchison said. “This is a start to the dialogue – not the end.”

When Murchison started at UConn, she said Herbst challenged her to address current events – the many incidents involving race and gun violence happening throughout our nation. UConn needs to address these issues, and forums help to do that, Murchison says, explaining that she doesn’t want anyone to think that the University is ignoring their pain.

“The conversations that have come about are very much fresh on our minds,” she says.

Joelle Murchison speaks with students before a forum on the recent violence seen in Orlando held at the Student Union Ballroom on Oct. 4, 2016. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
Joelle Murchison speaks with students before a forum on the recent violence in Orlando, Fla. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

A second event, also meant to bring the UConn community closer, was held Oct. 4. Modeled after a campus event that took place after the June nightclub shooting in Orlando, the Husky Solidarity Event gave students and staff a chance to reflect and be together.

“We will recognize that we are all one Husky nation,” Murchison says. “We’re accountable to one another.”

Several other noteworthy events are on this fall’s diversity and inclusion calendar, and Murchison is urging students to attend them, especially those that align with Hispanic Heritage Month, celebrated from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15, and Asian Awareness Month, which the University celebrates in November. Upcoming events include the Oct. 11 Asian American Heritage Observance Opening at the Gentry Building.

“I’d definitely encourage students to get out of their comfort zone,” Murchison says.

Murchison says the cultural centers, which now report to the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, are a great asset to UConn because they provide a safety net for underrepresented communities and help educate staff and students.

“That work is really important,” she says.

Moving forward, Murchison is working to establish a UConn Diversity Council that will include representatives from each of UConn’s schools and colleges. The group will help expand awareness when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

She will also look to better identify UConn’s strengths, while learning where there is a need for healing or repair. For example, she says the University would benefit from increasing the number of faculty members of color.

This fall, 23 percent of UConn’s full-time and part-time faculty members in Storrs and at the regional campuses are considered minority employees – a number that doesn’t match the growing number of minority students. This year’s freshman class, the Class of 2020, has earned the distinction of being the most diverse class in UConn’s history.

Murchison says one of the first steps in making UConn a more unified community is to clearly define diversity and inclusion, and she says everyone needs to understand the definitions so they can better navigate the world around them. There need to be expectations that result in accountability, self-examination, and equal access, Murchison says, adding that the University community also must decide how it will manage biases.

Murchison’s office is located in the Budds Building. She encourages visitors, and welcomes suggestions on how to improve life at UConn. Her office hours will be announced at a later date.

A complete list of upcoming diversity and inclusion events can be found here.