Q & A: Grand Valley hires vice president for Inclusion and Equity


Grand made a bold move when President Thomas J. Haas announced the appointment of Dr. Jeanne Arnold as the university's first vice president for Inclusion and Equity. Arnold was the executive director in the Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Programs at the University of Pennsylvania before she came to Grand Valley in January. She told Grand Valley Magazine's Mary Eilleen Lyon why she relishes the opportunities at Grand Valley and applauds the university for being ahead of its time.

GVM:What excites you about Grand Valley?

Arnold:I'm most excited about finding an institution that I feel in sync with in terms of my own values around diversity and inclusion, right down to the title of the position. I think those words were very specifically chosen. I believe the word inclusion really encompasses what we mean by making an environment welcoming for all who choose to be here. Having a vice presidential position lead this work is the wave of the future.

GVM: You say your values are in sync. What are your values?

Arnold:I think that genuinely valuing the differences in people and believing that the more perspectives around the table, the better the work that gets done, the richer the educational experience. For me that means differences in race and ethnicity, as well as religion, and including those with disabilities and the lesbian, gay, bisexual communities. I like to define inclusion and diversity as broadly as possible.

GVM: It seems Grand Valley is a bit on the cutting edge for an institution its size by elevating this to a VP position.

Arnold:I continue to be impressed by it. I think that it is cutting edge. I think Grand Valley is doing this while many institutions haven't come to the realization that this is the way to go, and that this is such important work it really needs to be tied to the core mission of the institution. I think Grand Valley is ahead of its time, especially given its external environment, to understand that so fully and to have an entire campus rally around that notion and put their resources behind it.

GVM:What are some of the challenges you face?

Arnold:On the one hand, I say Grand Valley gets it because they are putting a structure and infrastructure in place but that doesn't mean everybody's onboard with the idea with moving toward inclusion. I know that, and that would be the same any place. Hopefully through education and partnering and building relationships, we'll still be able to move forward with a unified agenda. I need to be a quick study and really get acclimated to the campus environment itself, to the surrounding community's inclusion issues, and I'll need to know about any related legislative issues. I'm ready to roll up my sleeves and get the work done.

GVM:How would you describe your work style?

Arnold:I'm a big believer in, and I practice, consensus building. I think because I am a social worker by education I learned early the value of seeking out and genuinely considering and incorporating the input of others. I always try to find the middle ground that we can all live with. I don't even know how to impose my beliefs on others, that's just not a very healthy or effective way to operate as a manager. I really believe that by working with others the most creative and effective work gets done.

GVM:You've never lived in the Midwest. Has anyone given you any advice?

Arnold:Just to get a new coat and some new boots. We don't really wear real coats and boots in Pennsylvania. That was one of my biggest concerns when interviewing, how would I really deal with the change in climate. Everyone has assured me that it's not as bad as I think it's going to be and I'll have the appropriate gear to get through.

GVM:I'm sure you've heard we're pretty good at college athletics here. Are you into sports?

Arnold:Not as a player, but I certainly enjoy being a spectator and certainly flashing back on my undergraduate days at PennState. You know I'm always rooting for the home team the college that I'm affiliated with or the teams in the town.

GVM:What do you like to do in your spare time?

Arnold:I spend a lot of time with family and friends. I'm active in my church. I'm also very active in my sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, so I'm hoping to make a connection with that. Because I'm a bit of an introvert, I like reading and listening to music and jazz.

GVM:What are your personal challenges with this position?

Arnold:I'm looking forward to testing what I have learned, specifically in my doctoral program, and combining that with my experience in higher education over the last 12 years. I really want to put what I know to practice at a higher level. This will become a personal and professional test for me, to really be able to carry out those things that I think ought to be happening in the areas of diversity and inclusion.

GVM:You are assigned to create a division not just an office.

Arnold:We're going to be an integral part of the institution so that in all that Grand Valley does there will be an ear or perspective around diversity and inclusion. I want us to be indispensable to all that goes on and have a key part on campus on a day-to-day basis. I really believe this has been a proactive initiative on the part of the president, the board of trustees and the senior management team to enhance our aspirations to have the most inclusive and equitable campus possible.

Page last modified March 17, 2014