A Commitment to Diversity

Like many higher education institutions in the early 20th century, Western had very few minority students. However, three years after the first day of classes on the new Western Illinois State Normal School campus, six Filipino students arrived in 1905 and became the first international/minority students to graduate in 1908. The first full-time African American college student at Western was Hazel Lewis of Quincy, who arrived during her junior year in 1917. The first African American graduate was Leala Burnett, also of Quincy, who received her diploma in 1923 at the age of 36. She later taught for 30 years in her hometown.*

Ninety-three years after Ms. Burnett’s graduation from Western Illinois State Normal School, the Western Illinois University of today has evolved into a progressive institution comprised of students, faculty and staff from a myriad of diverse backgrounds. We owe a debt of gratitude for those who paved the way to ensure that diversity would persist and thrive at Western.

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Diversity is an integral part of Western’s Strategic Plan, and providing equal access and opportunity to all students and employees are our priorities.

Since 2006, Western has increased its total minority enrollment by 20.3 percent. Western’s current minority enrollment, which is 32.5 percent of the total student enrollment, is 3,309. Furthermore, the University continues to graduate a larger percentage of students from underrepresented, first-generation and low-income backgrounds.

In addition to recruiting an ethnically diverse student body, the University actively engages in recruiting underrepresented minority faculty and administrative staff through the dissertation fellowship and visiting professor programs for traditionally underrepresented groups. Such programs as the Expanding Cultural Diversity Project and the University Diversity Council provide outstanding opportunities to showcase our campus culture, and Western houses numerous student organizations dedicated to diversity, including the Black Student Association, Latin American Student Organization, Korean Student Association, International Friendship Club, Gwendolyn Brooks Cultural Center, Feminist Action Alliance, Unity, Tradicion Hispana Dance Troupe, Cultural Expressions Club, NAACP and more.

Earlier this semester, I had the honor of accepting the Minority Access, Inc. Commitment to Diversity Award. Western was among 38 colleges and universities from across the U.S., and the only Illinois public institution. The award was given to institutions that embrace diversity, their past experience(s) with diversity and strategies for creating a more inclusive environment, as well as the statistical results of those strategies.

Most recently, our University Housing and Dining Services received the Outstanding Commitment to Inclusion and Equity Award from GLACUHO (Great Lakes Association of College and University Housing Officers). The award recognizes a college or university that has implemented an innovative approach to enhancing diversity awareness, understanding and education on their campus.

Diversity is an integral part of Western’s Strategic Plan, and providing equal access and opportunity to all students and employees are our priorities. It is also our mission to provide an environment that is inclusive and welcoming to all. I am proud of Western Illinois University and our continued commitment to providing academic and extracurricular opportunities that support a culture of inclusion for all.

* From “First Century: A Pictorial History of Western Illinois University” by Western Illinois University Distinguished Professor Emeritus John Hallwas.

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Western Pride

As we approach Fall 2014 Commencement ceremonies this weekend, I would like to take a moment to congratulate our students who have completed their degree programs at Western Illinois University! It is with great pleasure that I welcome our students, their families, and their friends to our ceremonies Friday and Saturday.

graduationI am proud of our students for their commitment to being a part of a distinct community of engaged learners who embrace education. Western Illinois University is dedicated to providing students with outstanding experiences that reflect our core values: Academic Excellence, Educational Opportunity, Personal Growth, and Social Responsibility. Guided by the faculty, WIU places an emphasis on developing culturally relevant problem-solving and effective communication strategies designed to help students become successful and innovative leaders in the global society. Whether our students choose to continue their education, enter the workforce, or undertake other worthwhile endeavors, they will continue to be positively influenced by their experiences at Western.

As the newest members of the Western Illinois University Alumni Association, I encourage our recent graduates to take an active role in their alma mater. We encourage all of our graduates and friends to come back to visit us often, as they are forever a permanent part of this institution’s history. Our loyal alumni and their successes reflect the exceptional education they received at Western Illinois University.

Our students and alumni should take pride in knowing they have earned a degree from an institution known regionally, nationally, and internationally as an exceptional institution of higher learning. Graduation day marks the culmination of our students’ academic, personal, and career aspirations. They have accomplished one phase, and they will continue to move forward to the next phase of their life, whether it is graduate education, military commissioning, or a career. I charge all of our graduates to continue accomplishing their life goals, and I wish each graduate of Western Illinois University continued success.

 

 

 

Welcome!

Western Illinois University President Jack Thomas

Western Illinois University
President Jack Thomas

Welcome to my first blog post! It is my intent to use this forum as a way to communicate all of the great things we have happening at Western Illinois University.

First, let me take a moment to introduce myself. I am Jack Thomas, the 11th president of Western Illinois University. I have served at the helm of the University since July 1, 2011. Previously, I had the privilege of serving as provost and academic vice president at WIU for three years. My wife, Linda, and I are the parents of two college-age sons, Patrick and Darius.

My academic background consists of English, which means this blog may be a bit more formal than others you may have read! As a former track athlete and collegiate-level track coach, I manage to incorporate running into my daily fitness routine (you can usually find me at WIU’s Donald S. Spencer Student Recreation Center very early in the morning).

Since assuming the presidency a few years ago, I set several goals and initiatives for Western Illinois University. As I recently shared in my 2014 State of the University address, as the leader of Western Illinois University, I refuse to allow this university to be viewed as anything less than a first-rate institution of the highest quality. We must be certain that our institution has the ability to remain relevant in this ever-changing world.

We have a great story to tell. Did you know that Western has moved from 53rd to 39th place out of 109 public and private schools on the top tier list of “Best Regional Universities” in the U.S. News and World Report? Or how about that Western is one of 159 regional universities, and one of three Illinois public institutions, named to the “Best in the Midwest” list by The Princeton Review? Our retention rate continues to rise. The rate rose from 63.3% in Fall 2013 to 72.2% in Fall 2014. We also continue to be recognized by G.I. Jobs and Military Times Edge magazine as a military friendly institution. These and many of our other accomplishments continue to raise the profile of Western Illinois University.

As president of WIU, I support initiatives that build on the University’s existing strengths, and I will continue to utilize the Strategic Plan as a base to make decisions for the University. My vision is for WIU to become a leading Midwestern public university serving a diverse student population. Under my leadership, Western continues to be favorably recognized by the Carnegie Foundation, and The Chronicle of Higher Education recently named Western a Top Producer of Fulbright Scholars for master’s-level institutions.

I have focused my efforts on developing and strengthening initiatives in five primary areas at Western, which include: academic programs, facilities, overall outreach and resources, professional development for faculty and staff, and shared governance through campus-wide committees. Also, I have placed a special emphasis on enrollment management in an effort to increase the number of undergraduate and graduate students, both native and international, at WIU. These recognitions and many of our institutional accomplishments tie in—and reinforce—my presidential initiatives.

We should all be working together to continue to move this University forward. If you have questions, concerns, or ideas to share, please email me at J-Thomas2@wiu.edu. You can also follow me on Twitter @StudentPres and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/WIUPresident.