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New Leaders Join USM Efforts to Improve Equity and Diversity

Portrait of Idella Glenn, Associate Vice President for Equity, Inclusion and Community Impact

Even before Idella Glenn began her work as USM’s new Associate Vice President for Equity, Inclusion and Community Impact, she began talking with folks within USM and among the local communities.

There were emails and phone calls and Zoom meetings. Her work was too important to wait for her start date or her arrival in Maine, she said.

“My role is to take the lead on looking at diversity, equity and inclusion issues at USM from a structural standpoint,” Glenn said, speaking via Zoom from her home in Greenville, South Carolina. “I understand that there is a lot that’s already happening around this area. My goal will be to get a sense of what’s happening and try to coordinate and collaborate with various partners on campus, to move us forward in this area.”

It’s a role that’s vital to the University and its new five-year strategic plan.

For USM, Glenn’s hiring and others are about beginning a new chapter in the university’s on-going efforts to be a more inclusive, diverse and welcoming community, President Glenn Cummings said.

“We strive to be an anti-racist university,” Cummings said. “The Intercultural and Diversity Advisory Council has been very helpful and will continue to guide us. IDAC and Dr. Glenn will help us get closer to the goals in our new five-year strategic plan, which calls for a University-wide equity review, a full curriculum review, active recruitment and  retention initiatives, and an examination of policies and practices.”

Dr. Glenn’s hiring will strengthen the work of IDAC, said USM Professor Joyce Gibson, who is co-chairing the group with senior associate director of Admissions PJ Singh.

“Her work will help us significantly advance the work on our mission and sustain the important work already accomplished through the efforts of so many folks in our community,” said Gibson, who is also a member of the Faculty and Staff of Color Association at USM.  “We are fortunate to have Dr. Glenn join us because she brings a wealth of experience, not only in equity and its related components, but she is a seasoned administrator in higher education--a great combination for us.”

Earlier this summer, Will Johnson also joined USM, becoming the new director of Intercultural Student Engagement.

While working to support all students, Johnson wants his office to be “a haven for underrepresented and marginalized students,” he said.

“All of us come from a different background. All of us are ingrained in a culture that helped cultivate who we are today,” said Johnson, who split his time as a kid between Philadelphia and Salisbury, Maryland. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Chestnut Hill College and a master’s degree in Counseling and College Student Personnel from Shippensburg University. He began his doctoral work while working at the University of New England, serving as the founder and program director of the Community Assistant Program. For his doctorate, he is researching the facets of the social justice movement and its effects on the student experience.

“I see my office as being this department that really supports and uplifts those narratives of how you became who you are and celebrates them.”

Students are entering Fall 2020 with the same anxieties as the rest of society: from COVID-19 to race issues,” he said.

“For many, they want to engage in conversation, but they don’t know how,” he said. “They’re afraid of saying the wrong thing. We’re not going to always get this right, but being able to come together is too important to give up.”

For Glenn, this moment comes with a wider understanding of the need for systemic change.

She brings with her 24 years of experience in leading diversity and inclusion initiatives. Most recently, she worked most at Hollins University in Roanoke, where she served as the Special Advisor on Inclusivity and Diversity. Prior to that, she served as director for Diversity Education and Retention Initiatives at Virginia Commonwealth University. That service followed years at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, where she served as an Assistant Vice President, Student Development & Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Assistant Dean for Diversity and Inclusion and the Director of Multicultural Affairs. As a student, she earned her bachelor’s degree in Computer Science & Mathematics at Furman University. She earned her Master’s degree in Higher Educational Administration at the University of South Carolina and her doctorate in Educational Leadership from Clemson University. Her dissertation was on the experiences of chief student affairs officers in addressing incidents of racial insensitivity on college and university campuses.

“I think people are getting it in a way that they didn’t pre-George Floyd,” Glenn said. Floyd’s death and the manner of death gave people an opportunity to “open their eyes and really be more conscious of what’s going on,” she said.”It is  a moment.”

As a schoolgirl, Glenn said she  experienced desegragation first hand. And in the mid-1980s, as a first-year Computer Science & Mathematics student at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, she was one of only seven African-American women in her class.

Those experiences would inform her work. They gave her strength and led her to make changes through collaboration, she said.

“Throughout the country, more people are recognizing that this is important work that needs to be done,” she said.

At USM, issues such as the recruitment and retention faculty of color, the climate on our campuses and the overall needs of students will be part of her work, she said.

“I believe the president and the senior leadership that I have spoken with that they are committed to making changes,” Glenn said.

The work begins, as it always does, with people talking with one another, she said.

“I don’t plan to come into USM as a person who is going to be like the diversity police or judging people,” she said. “We want to hold people accountable for their words and their actions, but in a way that maintains their humanity as well.”