the letter "B" with images of Bucknell campus inside

Creating an Inclusive, Equitable Community

Creating an Inclusive, Equitable Community typographic title
A recent Supreme Court ruling will affect how U.S. higher education institutions go about diversifying their campuses.
While admissions processes will change, Bucknell’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion will not.
by Katie Neitz

What’s happening?

In June, the Supreme Court ruled that race-conscious admissions policies can no longer be used by higher education institutions. This ruling came as the result of two federal cases argued before the court in October 2022: Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA) v. University of North Carolina (UNC) and SFFA v. Harvard. In a consolidated case, the court considered whether race-conscious admissions policies at UNC and Harvard are lawful under federal law and the U.S. Constitution. In 2022, Bucknell joined more than 40 other private, highly selective residential colleges in signing an amicus brief supporting race-conscious admissions processes as a compelling institutional interest.

The Supreme Court’s decision overrules legal precedent that allows admissions offices to consider the race of qualified applicants as one factor in their work to create a diverse learning environment for the benefit of all students. The ruling prohibits affirmative action in university admissions and disregards the educational benefits of a diverse student body and the societal benefits of ensuring graduates are effectively prepared to make meaningful contributions in the world.

“Bucknell’s commitment to diversity and equity is essential to our educational excellence, and will not waver with this ruling,” says President John Bravman. “As educators, we have an obligation to ensure that our graduates are equipped to succeed in life, personally and professionally. To thrive in a diverse society, they have to seek and respect perspectives and experiences of others. If we fail to create and nurture a campus community that celebrates our differences, we will not only fail our students — we will also jeopardize Bucknell’s future as a leader in higher education.”

What’s changing? What’s not?

“Bucknell will abide by the ruling and make the necessary adjustments to our admissions application,” says Lisa Keegan, vice president for student enrollment, engagement & success. “It’s important to note, however, that the ruling impacts just one aspect of our multifaceted admissions process, and it will not derail our efforts to attract and retain a diverse student body. We are well-equipped with an array of strategies that will enable Bucknell to continue to attract, enroll and graduate exceptional students from all backgrounds.” (See “Preparing for the Future,”).


It’s who we are.

Bucknell’s mission is to educate students for a lifetime of critical thinking and strong leadership characterized by continued intellectual exploration, creativity and imagination. Bucknell strives to foster an environment in which students develop intellectual maturity, personal conviction and strength of character informed by a deep understanding of cultures and diverse perspectives.

None of this is possible in a homogeneous environment, says Vernese Edghill-Walden ’87, Bucknell’s vice president for equity & inclusive excellence. “Educational excellence cannot be achieved without different opinions, different perspectives and different lived experiences coming together,” she says.

It’s where we are going.

Bucknell is committed to building and sustaining a diverse community in which all students, faculty and staff experience a sense of belonging supported by a foundation of inclusion, equity and access. This is a core component of the University’s strategic plan — The Plan for Bucknell 2025 — which guides Bucknell in preparing students to confront global challenges.

It’s what’s best for all students.

Research supports that diversity on college campuses improves intellectual engagement, self-motivation, citizenship and cultural engagement — for all students, regardless of race.

It’s the future — and the now.

Our nation is becoming more diverse every year. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2020 the U.S. population under age 18 became “majority minority,” meaning members of multiracial and racial and ethnic minorities outnumbered those who are white. By 2044, it is expected that the entire U.S. population will reach that status, and that by 2060, white individuals will make up an estimated 43.6% of the U.S. population. When a university makes a commitment to diversity, it’s making a commitment to being prepared for the future.

It’s a fact: Diversity and academic excellence go hand in hand.

All Bucknell students are admitted based on merit. To receive an offer of admission, a student must demonstrate that they are capable of excelling in Bucknell’s rigorous academic programs. It’s important to note that Bucknell’s focus on increasing diversity has also increased its appeal to the brightest students from all backgrounds, which has increased the University’s selectivity. Bucknell’s acceptance rate dropped from 37.5% in 2020 to 34.5% in 2021 and then 32.6% in 2022. In those same years, the University saw increases in both enrolled students of color and first-generation students, seeing an average growth of 5% and nearly 65% year-over-year, respectively. This indicates that qualified students who in the past were not aware of Bucknell due to lack of recruitment in their area or who felt excluded from Bucknell’s community are now seeing a path to their future on our campus.

As universities and colleges across the country begin their work to minimize the consequences of the court’s decision, Bucknellians can be assured that our institution is well-equipped and prepared to continue our pursuit of diversity as part of our commitment to excellence.

Preparing for the Future

Ensuring equitable access prepares all graduates for successful outcomes
Recruiting students who represent different backgrounds, geographies and perspectives isn’t just about expanding opportunity for a select few. It’s about providing a richer, more valuable educational experience for all students — which leading institutions recognize as essential to their continued relevance and ability to compete in a crowded marketplace.

“Bucknell prides itself on providing an outstanding education that prepares students to be successful in any endeavor in the world — a world that is becoming more and more diverse,” says Kevin Mathes ’07, assistant vice president & dean of admissions. “To do that, it’s important for Bucknell to be a microcosm of that world, a place where students can learn to effectively collaborate with people from Houston, New York City and Mumbai, India, as well as rural towns across America. By doing what is needed to best prepare our students, we are fulfilling Bucknell’s educational mission and ensuring the University’s legacy of excellence.”

Admissions offices have to be more nimble and strategic than ever about their recruitment, enrollment and retention efforts. Bucknell’s admissions team has been expanding its footprint and sharpening outreach efforts to make high-achieving students from geographically diverse areas and wide-ranging socioeconomic backgrounds more aware of Bucknell and what it has to offer. Just as critical: They are creating a cohesive network of resources to ensure that once students are here, they want to stay.

The efforts have been effective. The incoming Class of 2027 is expected to be one of the most diverse in Bucknell’s history (see “Class of 2027 Snapshot”).

group of Bucknell's admissions recruiters
Photo: Emily Paine
The strategic efforts of Bucknell’s admissions recruiters are enabling Bucknell to achieve its enrollment goals.
Here are just a few of the strategies behind that success:

Forming the Gateway Scholars Program: Forty members of the incoming Class of 2027 will be part of the new program, which offers scholarships to support high-achieving, first-generation students, eliminating the inclusion of federal loans from their aid packages. Participants benefit from ongoing research, mentorship and guidance to support their success, including GenFirst!@Bucknell, which pairs first-generation students with faculty and staff members who were also the first in their family to attend a four-year institution.

Creating the Center for Access & Success: The Gateway Scholars Program is just one of Bucknell’s five signature and national pathway programs that will fall within Bucknell’s new Center for Access & Success. When it becomes operational in the fall, the center will provide mentorship and other forms of support to help students from underrepresented backgrounds have a positive Bucknell experience throughout their four years. (Learn more about the center.)

Building partnerships in strategic locations: Bucknell has developed and expanded relationships with charter schools and community-based organizations in such cities as Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, New York City and Los Angeles. Recruiters actively engage with educational leaders in these communities to identify outstanding students.

“As a first-generation, low-income college graduate from a Puerto Rican family, I have a special place in my heart for college access. I love helping students overcome the challenges of college admissions. My favorite interactions are with students who hadn’t heard of Bucknell and leave our discussion with a new college on their list.”
Jose Ramos, regional associate director of admissions
Expanding recruitment areas: Admissions officers are making an intentional effort to tap talent from new areas. “If we notice a strong application from a student who goes to a school that has a large percentage of first-generation students or a high percentage of students who benefit from free or reduced-priced lunches, we consider building a relationship there,” Mathes says. “It has opened the door to areas we weren’t previously targeting. Our goal is to maintain a minimum of 10% of our visits in these types of new locations with a goal of increasing this over time.”

Facilitating travel: Many students say their college decision was solidified during a campus visit: “It just felt right.” In order to ensure that students from all areas and backgrounds have a chance to experience Bucknell’s campus, the University offers Journey to Bucknell, a program that covers travel and accommodations for a two-day visit. Bucknell recently expanded the program so that each invited student may travel with a parent or guardian. In addition, Bucknell launched a new event — the Affirming Diverse Identities Reception — as part of Admitted Student Days and provides students wishing to attend financial assistance if needed.

Giving a taste of Bucknell life: The Bucknell Academy Summer Experience is an opportunity for high school students to spend a week living on campus, interacting with faculty and experiencing hands-on learning. Bucknell actively recruits participants from diverse communities.

Tapping technology: Bucknell recruiters use data-collection and analysis tools to identify academically strong students who may face barriers to education, based on attributes such as low median family income, household education levels and participation in lunch-assistance programs.

Diversifying the team: “One thing that we hear in our profession is that students want to see themselves on an admissions team,” Mathes says. “So as we grow our professional staff, we want to make sure that we are attracting top talent while also being mindful of diversity. Having people with different backgrounds not only helps on-the-road recruitment, but also informs how we communicate to students.”

Class of 2027 Snapshot

For the last three years, Bucknell has attracted the largest application pools in its history — with more than 11,000 applications each year — while becoming increasingly more diverse and selective. The admit rate has declined from 34.5% in 2021 to 32% in 2023 while the percentage of students accepting the offer of admission has increased from 26.5% to 30.8%.
International students
25% increase*
Students of color
7.6% increase
First generation
8.7% increase
Pell-grant eligible
1.4% increase

*Enrollment increases over previous year as of May 2, 2023.

Equity Drives Success

New center goes beyond just opening doors
future Bucknell students walking into the entrance gate
Photo: Emily Paine
Bucknell is taking steps to ensure students have supportive programs and resources to help them thrive.

ucknell is working to create a truly equitable community — where students feel fully part of campus life, where they have space and access to opportunities that will enable them to learn, live and thrive. Launching this fall, Bucknell’s new Center for Access & Success will bring the University closer to that goal by providing a cohesive system of mentoring and support to enhance students’ ability to excel at Bucknell.

The center’s programming will ensure that students from first-generation, low-income and underrepresented backgrounds have mentorship, academic enrichment resources and a supportive community that will help them pursue their personal and professional goals and become active, engaged members of the campus community.

Lisa Keegan smiling in a blue dress
Photo: Emily Paine
Lisa Keegan, vice president for student enrollment, engagement & success
The new center is a response to the recognition that not every high-achieving student who meets Bucknell’s selective standards arrives on campus with the same foundation of support. The center will aim to bridge that gap to ensure all students have the resources they need to excel and flourish throughout their four years, says Lisa Keegan, vice president for student enrollment, engagement & success at Bucknell.

“Bucknell has a long tradition of recruiting students from diverse backgrounds, but their success requires a commitment to support their entire Bucknell experience,” Keegan says. “This center will allow the University to better serve underrepresented students through a more robust, cohesive and strategic approach.”

The center will serve students enrolled in Bucknell’s five national and signature pathway scholarship programs: the Gateway Scholars Program, the Charles T. Bauer Scholars Program, the Posse Scholars Program, the Langone and Langone-Walling Scholarships and the Bucknell Community College Scholars Program. By taking a relationship-based approach, the center’s staff will work to strengthen the students’ sense of belonging and provide services tailored to meet the needs of these students and their families.

Caro Mercado smiling in an orange suit
Photo: Emily Paine
Caro Mercado, associate dean of admissions & director of partnerships
Caro Mercado, associate dean of admissions & director of partnerships, has overseen the Bucknell Community College Scholars and Posse Scholars programs since 2016. She is transitioning into a director role within the center, where she will support students from all five pathway programs and Chris Brown, the Andrew Hartman ’71, P’00 & Joseph Fama ’71 Executive Director for Access & Success.

“I was a first-generation student and relate to the imposter syndrome some of these students feel,” Mercado says. “They arrive with so much talent and promise. They often need reassurance that they belong here — and they do. I receive feedback from faculty members that students from these programs are intellectually curious and bring perspectives that add value to their classrooms. So our goal is to build a supportive community and foster an environment of belonging so they can be successful.”

Impact in Action:
Bucknell Community College Scholars

How a six-week program transforms lives
Bangyan Li ’22 says two pivotal moments shaped who she is today. The first: Enrolling in Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC) in 2018 after moving to the U.S. from China. The second: Applying for the Bucknell Community College Scholars Program (BCCSP) in 2019.

BCCSP was launched in early 2000 to help high-achieving, low- to moderate-income community college students who want to take their education beyond an associate’s degree. What sets BCCSP apart is that it is more than a pipeline program. BCCSP provides the opportunity for about 20-25 community college students to immerse themselves in life at a residential university by staying and studying on campus for six weeks each summer.

Bucknell recruits from six schools: HACC, Lehigh Carbon Community College, Montgomery County Community College, Community College of Philadelphia, Reading Area Community College and Garrett College.

Participants are paired with a faculty mentor and take two summer classes, which enables them to earn credits that can be applied to their home institution — or toward a four-year degree. After they successfully complete the summer program, they may apply to Bucknell for transfer admission and financial aid.

“When I’d speak to high school students, I could feel that they were stressed and overwhelmed about the college process. I’d share my story — that I was the first in my family to go to college, and that I worked for the University. I think it opened people up and helped them see themselves here.”
Bangyan Li ’22, former admissions recruiter
Bangyan Li smiling in a blue Bucknell shirt
Photo: Emily Paine
Bangyan Li ’22 will pursue a doctoral degree in education at Boston University beginning this fall.
“It’s about giving students, many of whom come from non-traditional backgrounds, an opportunity to see what might be possible,” says Caro Mercado, associate dean of admissions & director of partnerships. “The message isn’t necessarily ‘attend Bucknell’ — although about 90% do — it’s really about helping them realize their potential. They come eager to learn and to extract as much as they can. They recognize the value of the education they are receiving.”

As Li experienced, that value extends beyond academics. “Before the BCCSP, I was very introverted and quiet,” she says. “I was self-conscious about having an accent. At Bucknell, people wanted to talk to me. They asked me what I needed and what they could do to make my experience better. I learned that people in the program cared about me genuinely and were invested in me.”

Li returned to HACC with newfound confidence — and a voice. She became outspoken and began taking on leadership positions on campus. When she applied to Bucknell, she decided to major in education. At Bucknell, she became a diversity intern with the admissions office, seizing an opportunity to interact with prospective students and share her experience as a first-generation, international and transfer student. When a full-time admissions job opened up at Bucknell just as she was graduating in 2022, she says it felt karmic. Li worked as an admissions recruiter until July. In August, she moved to Boston to pursue her doctorate in education at Boston University.

“Many students want to make a difference in society and contribute to the world,” she says. “I think what makes this program special is that it awakens people’s inner, true self and helps them see their value and potential.”

The Change Makers

Bucknellians take meaningful steps to support social change
Vernese Edghill-Walden smiling, wearing on orange shit, blue cardigan, and glasses
Photo: Wade Duerkes
Vernese Edghill-Walden ’87 returns to Bucknell to lead equity and inclusion efforts.

The Role Model
Vernese Edghill-Walden ’87

In July, Edghill-Walden became the University’s inaugural vice president of equity & inclusive excellence, a role in which she will lead diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts across campus. For Edghill-Walden, it is an opportunity to continue what she started as a student.

Her efforts as a student led to the establishment of the Multi-Culture Center (now called Multicultural Student Services) in 1986. Nearly 40 years later, Bucknell students from all backgrounds — including international cultures, identities and religious faiths — are benefiting from its robust network of events, programming, affinity groups, leadership development and learning opportunities — all of which trace back to Edghill-Walden’s initiative.

“At Bucknell, I fell in love with being a student leader and recognized that I wanted to pursue a profession in higher education,” she says. “I realized Bucknell didn’t have many role models who looked like me. It is easier to see what is possible for yourself when you have guidance from someone who identifies with your own lived experience.”

Seeing that was lacking, Edghill-Walden wrote a research paper about the importance of providing support systems to students of color. She presented those recommendations to President Gary Sojka, which led to Bucknell approving space for a multicultural center. “I’m thrilled that I’m returning to Bucknell, the place that shaped who I am. I hope students will be able to see themselves in me and know that they can help transform a culture.”

Marissa Calhoun smiling, wearing a pink blazer
Photo: Paige S. Wilson
Marissa Calhoun ’10 helped launch Bucknell’s Black Student Union and served as the campus chapter’s inaugural president.

The Community Builder
Marissa Calhoun ’10

In 2010, Calhoun and a “small but mighty group” of fellow Bucknellians came together to found the Bucknell Black Student Union (BSU). Across the country, BSUs had been forming at predominantly white institutions since the 1960s in recognition that students of color, particularly Black students, could benefit from the opportunity to connect with peers who shared cultural identities and campus experiences.

Calhoun, a Posse scholar and English — film/media studies and women’s & gender studies double-major, was the inaugural president of Bucknell’s BSU. Under her leadership, the BSU had a “groundbreaking first year” in which it organized social events as well as educational and cultural programming to benefit the entire campus. One notable achievement of that first year: Calhoun and her peers revived the Black Arts Festival, an event that had enjoyed a long and rich history at Bucknell since its founding in the 1960s but had been on a 10-year hiatus.

In the 13 years since Calhoun and her classmates stepped up, Bucknell’s BSU has become a thriving organization responsible for not only enhancing the campus experience for its members, but also for promoting a campus culture that respects and appreciates different backgrounds, ideas and identities.

“In addition to reviving the Black Arts Festival, we created community and dissolved much of the separateness between organizations of the Black diaspora at Bucknell,” says Calhoun, who now works in global creative marketing at Netflix. “I believe the success of cultural events at Bucknell is crucial in order to foster a community where all students feel represented by campus life and to create an environment where all students are exposed to the diverse perspectives of the world.”

Jerra Holdip smiling, wearing a black shirt
Photo: Jayla Holdip
Jerra Holdip ’23 received a 2022-23 President’s Diversity & Inclusion award for her efforts to bridge equity gaps on campus.

The Advocate for Justice
Jerra Holdip ’23

Holdip, a critical Black studies and political science double-major and Posse scholar, knew in high school that she wanted to fight injustice as a constitutional lawyer. An internship in Washington, D.C., exposed her to the difficulty people of color experience in accessing legal services. On Bucknell’s campus, she saw a similar gap for pre-law students of color. So in 2020, she took a leadership role in the newly created Minority Undergraduate Law Society, which provides hands-on learning opportunities for pre-law students of color.

Eager to do more, she participated in the Bucknell-Mauch Fellowship Program, in which she helped prepare students to vote in the 2020 election by leading in-depth discussion forums on crucial issues. For all these efforts — and her leadership as an executive board member of Bucknell’s Black Student Union — Holdip was honored with a 2022-23 President’s Diversity & Inclusion award.

“Before coming to college, I had loose ideas of how laws and policy surrounding issues like these are created,” Holdip says. “What I’ve come to realize in my courses here is how much diverse communities are directly affected.

“Engaging with students who are motivated to learn and actively participate in politics and government has further encouraged me to go out and be the change I want to see. My ultimate goal is to receive my J.D. and practice law. I want to be instrumental in institutions and enforcing laws that really protect and serve everyone.”

Reece Pauling smiling, wearing a green, red, black, and white striped shirt
Photo: courtesy of Reece Pauling ’24
Reece Pauling ’24 was named a 2023 Campus Sustainability Champion for developing a gardening program at a local prison.

The Nurturer
Reece Pauling ’24

Pauling, a Posse scholar, is interested in combining her majors in environmental studies and critical Black studies to make a lasting impact on others.

As soon as she arrived on campus, Pauling started volunteering at Bucknell’s farm, where she developed an appreciation for the empowering experience of growing food and feeling connected to the earth. In 2022, an opportunity arose for her to pursue a research project with the State Correctional Institute — Coal Township. She began investigating horticultural therapy — how green initiatives, such as farming and gardening, can benefit people’s mental and physical well-being while also helping them to develop useful vocational skills.

Her work eventually led to the creation of the Prison Garden Project, a program in which incarcerated individuals plant, grow and harvest flowers that are then donated to residents of local nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. The project is still in early stages, but Pauling hopes it will blossom into a permanent fixture at the prison. For her efforts, Pauling was recognized as a 2023 Campus Sustainability Champion by the Pennsylvania Environmental Resource Consortium.

“My personal experience working with Bucknell’s farm definitely shaped my passion for this project and guided me in understanding how important gardening can be,” says Pauling, who spent the spring semester in Kenya conducting research to benefit wildlife conservation and local communities. “Environmental practices and activities are extremely beneficial and should be available to all people. For those who face time in prison, rehabilitation and successful releases should be the goal. Because of my majors, I hope that I can address the injustices seen in environmentalism and bring to light the intersectionality of it and how there are layers to the environment when involving different groups of people.”

Cultivating a Talented, Diverse Workforce

Student success relies on a fully inclusive campus
Angèle Kingué smiling, wearing an orange cardigan and colorful scarf
Photo: Emily Paine
Angèle Kingué, associate provost for faculty engagement & inclusion, is committed to the success of underrepresented faculty members.
Higher education institutions can’t only focus on growing diversity in student populations. Efforts to promote inclusive excellence need to stretch into faculty and staff recruitment and retention strategies. Having representation campuswide — across divisions and departments — helps students from underrepresented backgrounds feel a greater sense of belonging, provides opportunities for meaningful mentor-ships and enhances retention and graduation rates.

Targeted programming, professional development and affinity groups certainly help these efforts (see “Growth Opportunities,”). But as Nicole Whitehead, vice president for human resources, and Angèle Kingué, associate provost for faculty engagement & inclusion, know, those efforts will only be effective if diversity and inclusion are at the heart of an institution’s mission, operations and ethos.

“It’s well established that having diversity at all levels of an institution fosters student success,” Whitehead says. “In my role, I need to ensure that every individual we hire best supports our students — that is the reason we are all here. So, given both those things, it’s very clear why DEI is a priority at Bucknell. I don’t see DEI as something you accomplish with a single hire or with a training session. I see it as a collective experience, part of the University’s infrastructure. DEI isn’t something we do. It’s who we are.”

“I see my job as making it clear to faculty members that they can grow roots here, and there is a network around them that is here to support them. It’s a human-centered approach, and they are at the center. I want them to know that they belong here. It’s a way of saying, ‘I see you, and you matter.’ ”
Angèle Kingué, associate provost for faculty engagement & inclusion
Kingué, who also serves as a professor of French & Francophone studies, understands the struggles faculty of color experience as they navigate a predominantly white university. Over the past four years, her role at Bucknell expanded to focus on promoting faculty engagement, particularly the recruitment and retention of faculty from underrepresented backgrounds.

Kingué begins meeting with prospective faculty members during the hiring process, and continues working with them throughout their careers at the University. She wants them to be aware of the support systems and mentoring resources available to them at Bucknell. But these conversations do more: They convey that Kingué — and Bucknell — care about them as people. That can be a differentiating factor for a professor considering multiple competitive job offers. Kingué takes an active role in the trajectory of their professional lives as soon as they arrive on campus and works with them to map out individualized plans for success. Her goal is to deliver two messages: I am on this journey with you, and we’re going the distance.

“I see my job as making it clear to these faculty members that they can grow roots here, and there is a network around them that is here to support them,” says Kingué, who says taking genuine interest in people and having ongoing meaningful interactions with them helps to foster a space of belonging. “It’s a human-centered approach, and they are at the center. I want them to know that they belong here. It’s a way of saying, ‘I see you, and you matter.’ ”

Growth Opportunities

Bucknell fosters an inclusive culture that promotes faculty and staff success through a variety of programs. Here are just a few.
Richard E. & Yvonne Smith Postdoc-to-Tenure-Track Fellowship: Designed to promote pedagogical excellence, the program specifically recruits underrepresented early-career faculty members to join Bucknell and receive support and guidance as they further develop their teaching and scholarship.

The Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity & Gender: Supports faculty development, scholarship, interdisciplinary exchange and collaboration on issues of race, ethnicity and gender as well as intersections with other aspects of difference.

The Griot Institute for the Study of Black Lives & Cultures: Provides faculty and student intellectual and creative engagement with the interdisciplinary investigation of the cultures, histories, narratives, peoples, geographies and art of Africa and the African diaspora.

University DEI Councils: All across the University, division- and college-level diversity, equity and inclusion councils meet regularly to discuss opportunities for improvement and growth within their areas.

President’s Diversity Council: An advisory and leadership team responsible for developing, overseeing and monitoring University-wide efforts to achieve Bucknell’s commitment to diversity as a core institutional and educational value. Whitehead and Kingué are council co-chairs.

Equity & Inclusive Excellence Faculty Fellows: An interdisciplinary team of faculty members from all three colleges works closely with the provost’s office to enhance diversity strategies across campus.

Equity & Inclusive Excellence Council: Representatives from nine administrative departments work together to advance DEI initiatives.