‘Ready to do the hard work’: DEI director sees surge of support during first months in new role

Scroll down to view an 8/17/2021 interview with Dr. Font-Guzmán.

Not a week after beginning in her new role as EMU’s first executive director of diversity, equity, and inclusion, Jacqueline N. Font-Guzmán made her first public appearance during a Facebook Live interview for LovEMU Day. Her time slot coincided with the launching of a special DEI Initiative Fund. 

In that interview,  Font-Guzmán gave a hint of the vision she had for EMU as “the most welcoming university in the world.” 

EMU’s draw, she said,  was its “institutional values and mission rooted in Christian faith, selflessness, compassion, empathy, solidarity, social justice, and community.” She also noted the university’s strong commitment to advancing DEI initiatives and its missional focus on educating students in their development of “a moral compass that is essential in today’s globalized world and the critical historical moment the nation faces.”

Within the day, more than $82,750 had been raised in support of both her new leadership and the importance of this collective work at EMU. The ongoing total is $111,263 in current and pledged donor support. One of Font-Guzmán’s tasks in the coming weeks and months is to determine the best focus for this fund — and for the excitement and commitment symbolized in the investment.

In a March announcement, President Susan Schultz Huxman identified Font-Guzmán’s new role as providing “guidance to our campus community to live more fully into its identity as a faith-informed peace and justice university … [she will be ]a dynamic ambassador, catalyst and facilitator in mobilizing our campus community around DEI goals.” 

Formerly professor of law and conflict studies and director of the Negotiation and Conflict Resolution Program at Creighton University, Font-Guzmán came to the EMU role with experience developing and implementing DEI and social justice curricula into graduate degree programs, as well as collaborating with a colleague on a  popular dialogue series that explored experiences and built relationships across diverse groups at the university.  

An accomplished teacher, scholar and administrator, she holds a PhD in conflict analysis and resolution from Nova Southeastern University; a law degree summa cum laude from the Interamericana University of Puerto Rico; a Masters in Health Care Administration degree from Saint Louis University; and a BA degree from Coe College.  An active practitioner in conflict studies, she has led trainings, workshops and seminars in mediation and facilitation in the United States and international settings. 

Since arriving at EMU April 1, Font-Guzmán has met with various groups, including leaders of 14 student organizations and faculty, staff, and administrators across disciplines and campuses and within various centers. Listening to and gathering those perspectives, she says, has affirmed “that EMU is an extraordinary student-centered community, wanting and willing to do the hard work to advance DEI.”

Among the main themes, she has heard “a passion for making EMU a campus where everyone feels that they belong and can be their authentic selves; an unwavering commitment to bringing our vision to life and opening new pathways of access and achievement for all students; the challenges that many members of our community face, especially those belonging to a minoritized or underrepresented group; and some big ideas on how we can make changes to move forward together.”

As she continues to gather information through the summer and fall, Font-Guzmán says relationship-building is the core action through which learning, healing, and growth can happen. 

“We must dream big and act small, and one way of doing this is by nurturing quality relationships with each other and expanding our networks within and beyond campus. Relationship building is at the core of my vision because it can disrupt unhealthy patterns of interactions, neutralize relationships of exploitation and exclusion, and create a healthier EMU community that moves us all towards a welcoming campus.”

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2021 issue of Crossroads magazine.

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