Dr. Penny McPherson-Myers takes over DEI leadership role

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This past summer, The Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) experienced some vacancies, one of those being the departure of the Senior Vice President of DEI, Dr. Monika Williams Shealey. During her time at Rowan, she was the division’s inaugural leader, who essentially fulfilled the leadership role for the DEI department. 

After her departure, her role was taken over by Dr. Penny McPherson-Myers, the Vice President of the Division of DEI since 2019. McPherson will take over the role, but will not use the same title as Shealey. 

The DEI is an organization on campus that is dedicated to addressing systemic changes on campus, such as promoting inclusivity on campus, recruiting and retaining diverse students, faculty, and staff, and supporting teaching, professional development, and scholarships that are available to all. 

The transition of leadership was started first with Dr. McPherson-Myers meeting with President Houshmand on the process. 

“Throughout my tenure here in this role, I have been in preparation for succession, whenever that would be. I was trained under Dr. Shealey, but I was also participating in conferences in preparation for you know, the transition and when it would occur,” said Dr. McPherson-Myers. 

Dr. McPherson-Myer’s role as Vice President is not a temporary position, and with this new position comes new responsibilities and for the Rowan students and staff, new questions of what will come under her leadership. 

One of her first focuses will be to fill in the vacancies of DEI director of Rowan School of Osteopathic Medicine (SOM), which is now enhanced to an Assistant Vice President position to support the Rowan-Virtua SOM, the School of Nursing & Health Professions, the School of Translational Biomedical Engineering and Sciences. In addition, McPherson-Myers will also need to fill the gaps for the Assistant Vice President for Student Success and Inclusion Programs and an Assistant Vice President for the Division of DEI, to replace Dr. McPherson-Myers’s previous role. 

The manager of Social Justice, Inclusion and Conflict Resolution (SJICR), Dominique Pierson works closely with Dr. McPherson-Myers to give marginalized students, like BIPOC students a voice, so their needs are met. Pierson gave her insight on how these vacancies are being dealt with and why there isn’t really a role of a DEI director. 

“Now we are filling those positions, which is a transition that our division is still undergoing. The office which most students know as SJICR was under the transition, for example, me being promoted to the position of manager.” Pierson said, “Which is equivalent to a director, just a different title. So because people don’t see a director title anymore they think that a director is missing from our office, and that’s not true.”

Dr. McPherson-Myers also introduced the formation of a DEI task force to focus on tackling diversity, equity, and inclusion issues. 

“The President requested a task force that would compromise faculty, staff, and students from the campus community to look at where the DEI division has been for the past four years and what are some things we should be considering.” said Dr. McPherson-Myers. “By the spring semester, we will be able to present a report that will provide guidance as far as moving forward. What is considered in all of that is a climate survey that was done last semester.”

The survey is another step to allowing the students, faculty, and staff to have their voices heard. It will allow them to discuss what changes they would like to see for the future as well. The new task force is also another effect from the transition after the vacancies so that there could be an ensured commitment to DEI. 

The task force was established in October, and the group will also work closely with President Houshmand to give recommendations to him on how to address DEI issues that they’ve seen on campus. This will allow support to the DEI division from the university. 

Dr. McPherson-Myers has done a lot of work at Rowan, such as the University-wide DEI Strategic Plan. The plan has lots of different goals that are carried out by several departments here at Rowan. 

An example of one of DEI’s Strategic Priority include making orientation for all incoming students more accessible and that in the future, will bring a more diverse population on campus. This specific priority will be carried out by the Department of Orientation and Student Leadership Programs, as they are responsible in making sure this goal is accomplished, like many other departments on campus carrying out different DEI Strategic Priorities. 

The Vice President of DEI, continues to work with the rest of the DEI office to ensure students are getting the help they need and their questions answered along with several departments that are under the division of DEI including, the SJICR, Center for Access, Persistence, and Achievement (CAPA), Center for Neurodiversity, and the Office of DEI at Virtua Health College of Medicine and Life Sciences of Rowan University. 

The process of getting these vacant positions filled is not a short one, as there is a mandatory process of obtaining a search committee in order to find people for these roles. Dr. McPherson-Myers and Pierson both agree that they are being intentional when it comes to finding the best people for the positions. 

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