Kelli McLoud-Schingen is The University of Tulsa’s new vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). To this role, McLoud-Schingen brings nearly 30 years of experience in the field of intercultural competence expertise, having demonstrated both leadership and results working in higher education institutions and as an independent consultant.
Now that McLoud-Schingen has been on the job at TU for a few months and has had an opportunity to meet the community and think about the evolution of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, this seemed an apt moment to sit down with her for a chat about the path that brought her to TU, her sense of the state of DEI at this university and her vision for the future.
Welcome aboard! What is the path – academic, professional, personal – that prepared you for and led you to this new role at TU?
Frankly, I think I have been on this path since birth. I was always the bridge-builder in my family and in my friendships it’s always been important to me to help people understand one another.
When I graduated college in 1989, almost immediately I started working in higher education and residence life. One of my first responsibilities was to facilitate diversity training for residence assistants. That’s officially when I first started doing this work.
I worked in higher education from 1989 to 2000, and from 2005 to 2007, working in residence life, student activities, international student admissions, international student services and multicultural affairs.
In 2000, I started my own global diversity and inclusion consulting business, working with education, government, non-profit and corporate clients from Virginia Tech, Walt Disney Imagineers, CAISA International and Unilever in the United States and all over the world. To enrich my knowledge and skills, I completed a master’s in cross-cultural studies in 2002.
What changes have you observed/experienced over the last, say, 10 years in terms of DEI in the post-secondary sector?
One of the most profound shifts in focus has been from “food, folks and fun” diversity efforts to efforts to truly create inclusive campuses. These have come about mostly because students have insisted on them – in particular, students from underrepresented communities.
These students want higher education without having to become something else, without having to be, act or speak differently than who they truly are. They want to be measured by academic excellence, not against the unconscious or conscious biases of the academy. Assimilation to the dominant or mainstream is not their path forward.
This has forced post-secondary institutions to consider how we can create room for that and not lose the identity of these institutions.
Why is a focus on/investment in DEI so vital to post-secondary institutions? What universities in the U.S. or elsewhere are doing an excellent job in this area?
It’s vital because to ignore it is to render ourselves extinct.
I just saw a recent article in Money.com that describes what prospective students are considering as they make decisions on where to go to college, and the focus wasn’t on degree programs, institutional rankings or even the management of COVID-19. It was the institution’s commitment to DEI.
With students being our clients, we have to not just meet their needs, but strive to surprise them with the inclusive nature of our campuses. I have been watching my colleagues in higher education institutions that I have felt are doing this well — schools such as the College of the Adriatic in Italy; the University of Jyväskylä in Finland; and the University of British Columbia in Canada.
And what I mean by “doing it well” is not that they have somehow figured it out and they are doing everything right. But they are making sure that the table to discuss institutional success and identity is inclusive of all voices within the institution.
They are also doing a good job of working to diversify the core curriculum to ensure that they are including non-traditional voices that have contributed significantly to particular areas of study. Here in the U.S., Virginia Tech has done a particularly good job keeping DEI at the forefront of their initiatives and have backed their support with financial and human resources.
You’ve had a chance to speak with and hear from a lot of people at TU since you arrived last fall. What’s your impression of the current state of DEI at TU?
People are hungry for it! Students, faculty and staff – everyone is hungry for the “right” way to do it.
That’s incredibly encouraging and exciting for me. It means that while the path forward is not smooth, by any means, at least I don’t feel that there are major barriers that can’t be overcome. There is definitely work to do and I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and get about the business of shoring up the foundation of where sound paths exist and constructing new paths where there are none.
What changes and innovations are you looking forward to spearheading?
What am I most excited about is moving the conversation from simply increasing numbers of underrepresented groups among students, faculty and staff (although that is absolutely a goal), to inclusion at TU from the margins to the center. It is everyone’s responsibility to uphold the values of this institution.
I am also looking to drive an initiative to be instrumental in leading the DEI conversation in Tulsa through seminars, guest lectures and symposiums made available to the TU campus as well as the public. I’d love for TU to be where DEI thought leaders gather in Tulsa and for our university to be seen as a major player in the conversation of what it takes to create inclusive spaces.
Finally, I believe it is important to create global citizens. To that end, I want to work with our existing programs to ensure that underrepresented students have access to international opportunities and for our international students to feel seen, heard and fully included.
What are the challenges to accomplishing those goals and how can the TU community surmount them?
Put simply: financial and human resources.
Five years and 10 years from now, what do you hope DEI looks like at TU?
In five years, I hope that we will be identified as a truly inclusive campus that is not only seen in terms of numbers but felt in terms of community. In 10 years, I want our program to be the benchmarked program for institutions of our size.
Beyond championing DEI at TU, what would you like your new colleagues to know about you outside of work hours?
I grew up on the south side of Chicago and moved to Minneapolis to work at the University of Minneapolis when I was 27. I met my husband there, and when he moved to Texas for work, we got engaged and I went to Texas kicking and screaming because I LOVED Minneapolis.
We stayed in Texas for 10 years and have been in Tulsa for 13. My husband and I have two children. Max is 20 and studying musical theatre in Chicago at the Roosevelt University Chicago School of Performing Arts. My daughter Katalia is 17 and in her last year at Booker T. Washington High School.
Outside of marriage and parenthood, I am a voracious global traveler. I am also the founder of and artistic director for the World Stage Theatre Company here in Tulsa.
The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Chevron Multicultural Resource Center and Student Association are hosting two engaging events as part of Black History Month 2021. You are invited to take part!
- Social Justice through the Lens of the Black Panther Party, featuring Elmer Dixon (Feb. 4, 6 p.m.)
- Racial Justice and Healing, featuring Cherry Steinwender (Feb. 25, 6 p.m.)