Making Diversity a Priority
Vernese Edghill-Walden ’87 executes a university’s strategy
by Patrick Broadwater
Vernese Edghill-Walden ’87 got a glimpse of her future career as a chief diversity officer when she was a Bucknell student. The sociology major authored a research paper, which she presented to then-President Gary Sojka, examining the need for greater support systems for minority students and calling for the establishment of a new multicultural center, which came to fruition a few years later.

“That experience made me realize that I wanted to work in higher education,” she says. “It all started at Bucknell.”

Edghill-Walden’s early work at Bucknell has guided her career and contributed to her recent promotion to vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) at Northern Illinois University. The move recognizes the progress the institution has made in addressing DEI issues during her five years in a senior leadership role with the university.

Vernese Edghill-Walden ’87
Photo: Katrina Wittkamp
“Issues of diversity and inclusion are core and central to all areas of an institution,” says Vernese Edghill-Walden ’87.

As they recognize the growing need to address and prioritize DEI, many universities are elevating diversity officers to the top rungs of their administration. For instance, Bucknell’s officer is an associate provost and member of the president’s leadership team.

The role of an institution’s chief diversity officer is to coordinate resources and services to provide a consistent and equitable experience for every student, says Edghill-Walden. “The most effective way to do that is to lead the integration of those themes in every aspect of the university, so there’s shared responsibility for the outcomes,” she says. In the past, diversity offices operated mostly under the Student Affairs function.

“Chief diversity officers in a leadership role have a wider lens and perspective to address DEI across the institution and not just in one department, which is really important, says Edghill-Walden. “Senior leadership must commit to integrating DEI, and there must be a senior leader charged with building and executing the DEI strategies. Then we can begin to create more inclusive and welcoming university communities.”