|Shaunda Brown (l-r), Phyliss Esposito, Randy Ferguson, Tony Garcia and Lariet
Turner are working to make the campus climate nurturing for everyone as they
work to retain students of color.
Edgewood College Diversity & Inclusion Staff
Seeking Institutional Change
Part 1 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling
Rarely is there straight-line advances in the achievement of diversity and
inclusion in institutions. There are advances and setbacks. And sometimes it’s
like undergoing an operation. You really don’t know what’s wrong and the
scope of what is required until you start peeling the layers back.
Back before 2010, Edgewood College had primarily one staff person
responsible for its diversity & inclusion efforts. Pearl Leonard-Rock was the
director of the Center for Diversity & Inclusion, which often times was an oasis
for students of color as they braved a sometimes difficult environment as they
sought to finish their college education. This was especially important because
there were so few, relatively speaking, students of color on campus.
Edgewood stepped up its recruitment efforts and began to see double digit
percentages of the incoming freshmen be students of color, but it was
experiencing retention problems as well as complaints about the campus
climate. More needed to be done.
In 2010, Tony Garcia was brought on as an LTE inclusion coordinator. And as the years have gone by and the knowledge of and the intransigence of diversity &
inclusion issues persisted, as exhibited by some campus incidents, the college began to respond with more resources for diversity & inclusion efforts. And as the
campus succeeded in attracting domestic students of color, it needed to invest to ensure that their campus experience was a positive one and that they graduated and
obtained their degrees from Edgewood College.
“25 percent of our freshman class this past fall was domestic students of color,” said Garcia who is now the executive director for diversity & inclusion and now sits
on President Scott Flanagan’s cabinet. “And 19 percent of all of our students here at the college identify as domestic students of color. It’s amazing progress. But I’m
going to use the slogan that Derek was using in 2012. We’re all here because we want to retain the students. We can continue to recruit diverse classes. We can do a
better job of recruiting faculty and staff of color. But at the end of the day, we’re all here to serve our students and ensure that they can be their authentic and genuine
self here at the college. It’s our job as educators, staff and administrators to ensure that our students are always at the center of what we do.”
Where there was once one staff person focused on diversity and inclusion efforts, there are now five.
“Shaunda Brown is the director of Student Inclusion & Involvement and we are in her space, the Office of Student Inclusion & Involvement, formerly known as the
Center for Diversity & Inclusion,” Garcia said. “She’s been here for one year and some months. Then we have Phyllis Esposito, the newest member of our community.
She is the new director of our Center for Multicultural Education. Lariel Turner is the program coordinator for the Office of Student Inclusion & Involvement. And then
Randy Ferguson is the assistant director for Student Inclusion & Involvement as well. Lariel and Randy are part of Shaunda’s team. Phyllis is also a one-person
department as am I.”
As the director of Student Inclusion & Involvement, Shaunda Brown oversees Edgewood’s traditional campus activities like student orientation, student organizations,
and student programming in addition to student multicultural affairs.
“I actually came here after my master’s program,” Brown said. “I did my master’s at Bowling Green State University in the higher education program. The assistant
director job was actually sent to me. I had never heard of Edgewood College at all. And I wound up coming here and falling in love with the students and ended up
coming and transitioning about a year ago. I’m from Detroit, Michigan. I did my undergrad and graduate work in Ohio and worked professionally in New York City and
New Jersey for two years.”
In some ways, Lariel Turner has been following in Brown’s footsteps.
“I’m originally from Detroit, Michigan,” Brown said. “And I came to Edgewood right after undergrad. I went to Bowling Green State University. And I found the job online,
actually on Shaundra’s Facebook page. I applied for the job. Much like Shaundra said, I really love the city. It was summer. It was beautiful and the campus was really
great. I also really connected with the students here. It sounded like a great job.”
As the program coordinator for the Office of Student Inclusion & Involvement, Turner is on the front lines of helping students stay and succeed at Edgewood.
“My primary focus is the Multicultural Student Achievement Program or MSAP,” Turner said. “It serves first and second year students of color, LGBTQ+ students, low-
income students, undocumented students and first generation college students. We provide academic support through study requirements. We do a lot of group work
and peer mentorship as well as personal outings. My mission is to retain people here.”
As the director of the Center for Multicultural Education, Phyllis Esposito works with staff to assist them with their professional development in an increasingly
multicultural setting. She has the most experience of the staff in multicultural initiatives.
“I’m originally from Kansas City, MO,” Esposito said. “I finished my doctoral studies at the University of Kansas. After I left, I did a post-doctorate for a couple of years at
the University of Missouri-Kansas City. And then I took a really big leap and went to the West Coast. I taught for five years at Evergreen State College in Olympia,
Washington. That was a big change. I was in their master’s in teaching program. That was a great opportunity. I got tenure and then I said, ‘What’s next?’ I made a shift
back. We have some roots here in Madison. My husband went to graduate school many, many years ago. But we would spend our summers here, so there is the
connection. When the job came up, I was like, ‘How do I get closer to home, but maybe not go home and do this next level of work that I am interested in pursuing?’”
Next issue: The challenges and opportunities in working on diversity & inclusion efforts.