Long before the initials DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) were part of the lexicon, Ovid Butler founded the University that bears his name with a goal to admit students “without distinction on account of sex, race, or color.”
One hundred and sixty-seven years later, Dr. Khalilah Shabazz, Butler’s new Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer, intends to build on that mission.
“All of what Butler is links back to the importance of diversity, the movement toward equity, and being inclusive,” she says. “An incredible amount of work has been going on here through the years. Now it’s time to take a broader institutional approach and make sure we are doing things in a way that impacts our campus and our community.”
The University has made DEI one of its strategic priorities. That means working across the campus to make sure individuals of all identities, backgrounds, and perspectives are part of the Butler community at all levels—students, faculty, and staff.
As Shabazz gets situated in her position—she started work on September 12—she says she will be thinking about diversity broadly. She wants the campus to be welcoming for all. To make sure everyone has a voice in the decision-making process and feels valued and supported. The goal is to attract and retain the best talent.
Shabazz says the reason to embrace DEI—not only at Butler, but in society at large—is simple. “In today’s society, DEI is what we’re living and existing in. We’re preparing our students to live in a global world. We need to be able to centralize and work better at providing direction of who we are as an institution that values DEI because we want folks to work here and attend as students. The demographics of our nation are shifting. If we don’t prepare ourselves to be able to welcome and engage individuals from diverse backgrounds, we’re putting ourselves in a challenging position.”
Shabazz—people call her “Dr. K”—describes herself as being in the “landscaping phase” of DEI at Butler.
That is, she’s working “to understand who we are and what we do and get an inventory of our initiatives around DEI.”
With the inventory in hand, she plans to elevate, enhance, and educate. She’s looking for what Butler’s administration, units, and six colleges are doing that need to be elevated across campus. We need to bring them to light, she says, so we can share best practices.
At the same time, she intends to identify what needs to be enhanced. In other words, what can we build upon? Are we using our resources in the best way? Are we being collaborative in identifying partners in this work?
Finally, there’s educating. “I imagine that a lot of what’s happening, people don’t know about,” she says. Her plan is to let people know about all the resources and opportunities relative to DEI. What’s going well? What are the shining moments? What are the gaps we can work on together to address?
If all goes as planned, Shabazz wants more people to feel that they belong at Butler and that they believe Butler educates around DEI principles. She hopes to hear of fewer incidents of bias, discrimination, and microaggressions, and to see greater representation and sense of belonging among students, faculty, and staff of diverse backgrounds (including race, abilities, LGBTQ+ identity, religion, and perspectives). She also wants to see the entire Butler community even more committed to its founding mission.
But, she says, she can’t do it alone. “I am approaching this work as a catalyst and a collaborator and as someone who’s helping to define the strategic direction of where we’re headed. It doesn’t eliminate the need for individuals and academic units to still continue to do the work. I’m trying to make sure that as we do this work, we’re going in the same direction. The messaging should be the same, the impact the same. I’m looking forward to immersing myself in the Butler community so I have a strong understanding of The Butler Way and how we make DEI central to that.”