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Center for Diversity and Inclusion Director Builds on BVU's Beautiful View

June 09, 2021 4:00pm

Dr. Joel Berrien, Jr. grew up in a small Georgia town, a sanctioned home to a nearby Ku Klux Klan chapter that often marched, rallied, burned crosses, and harassed and threatened residents of color.

His community was adjacent to two “sundown towns.”

A sundown town?

“It’s a town that, if you were Black and caught there after sundown, anything could happen to you,” Berrien says matter-of-factly. “You knew that to travel through a ‘sundown town,’ you did so during the daytime.”

Berrien’s mother, grandmother, and other adult relatives each carried a Green Book, too.

“A Green Book was a publication that told Black people what restaurants they could eat in across the South. It told Black people where they could stay and couldn’t stay,” Berrien says. “It was a part of our lives.”

Thankfully, he says, Green Books have dropped from circulation as the U.S. continues to address and learn from a past intensely divided along racial and socioeconomic lines. Dr. Joel Berrien, Jr. admits he didn’t know much about the formal term “diversity” as a young man. And the man who earned an Ed.D. in curriculum and instruction from Texas A&M University now serves as BVU Senior Director for Diversity & Inclusion.

“I didn’t fully understand what diversity meant while I was growing up,” Berrien says. “As I got older, I began to comprehend. I ended up working 16 years as a therapist. I then received a job offer to teach as a special education teacher in a psychoeducational setting for 10 years, and I also taught psychology courses in the evenings for the last seven of those years.”

Along the way, Berrien taught on the community college level. He met and wed Dr. Tasha C. Toy, who served as the Director of the Multicultural and International Student Programs at that time, someone who taught him even more about diverse ideas, diverse responses, and more.

“I learned that equity is not the same as equality,” Berrien says. “I learned that inclusion means to feel welcomed and appreciated.”

Berrien, who served as a Student Success Coach and an Adjunct Instructor at Dixie State University before becoming Director of the Center for Diversity & Inclusion at Southern Utah University, is the first male on both sides of his family to graduate from college. He seeks to help others who, like him, blaze a trail for their families. He seeks to help others who, unlike him, haven’t experienced much in the way of diversity in their formative years.

“It is both relevant and urgent we continue to grow in a climate of inclusiveness at BVU,” Berrien says from his office within BVU’s Center for Diversity & Inclusion. “And that’s not just because of the social, political, and religious reckoning. If we’re truly going to not only live up to the University’s mission statement and our name, Buena Vista—'beautiful view’—but eventually transcend that level to become not just a ‘beautiful view’ but also a beacon of diversity, equity, and inclusion, then we must do this, especially as we educate one another here in Storm Lake, the most diverse city in all of Northwest Iowa.”

Berrien seeks to establish a four-tier program model for the Center for Diversity & Inclusion, focusing on the following: personal development, professional development, academic development, and cultural/community development. BVU’s Center for Diversity & Inclusion, with Berrien at the helm, he pledges, will work to acclimate underrepresented high school students to the college experience through a summer bridge program on-campus.

“I also seek to join community, regional, state, and national leaders in working to establish a Dream Center, where services for undocumented, DACAmented, and mixed-status family students, as well as their families can be accessed,” he says.

“There are other initiatives that I would like to implement and bring to fruition to best serve the CDI, our students, faculty, staff, and the Storm Lake community,” he says with a smile, hinting at some three pages of initiatives.

“I want us to help students step into their lives’ purpose,” he continues. “In doing so, BVU can become even more than a ‘beautiful view.’ It can be a beacon of diversity, equity, and inclusion.”