New CMU chief diversity officer discusses returning to Mt. Pleasant, goals in new position

Central Michigan University’s new vice president and chief diversity officer Shawna Patterson-Stephens is an alumna eager to cultivate growth at her old home.

“It’s an amazing honor to invest in a school and community that gave a lot to me in my early education,” says Patterson-Stephens. “I still have a lot of connections and mentors in Mt. Pleasant that encouraged me to return and take on this opportunity. It feels like I’m finally returning home.”

Patterson-Stephens, from Detroit, graduated from CMU in 2003 with a sociology major. The alumna says she was actively involved in diversity and inclusion efforts on CMU’s campus throughout her undergraduate education. She gave her time as both a member and president of the Organization for Black Unity (OBU), a Leadership Camp Facilitator, and part of the Multicultural Academic Student Services.

CMU has advanced tremendously since her time on campus, Patterson-Stephens says. She feels grateful to have the opportunity to contribute to a growing, diversifying community.

After earning her bachelor’s degree, Patterson-Stephens earned a master's degree in student affairs administration from Michigan State University and her doctorate in higher education from Florida State University. Most recently, Patterson-Stephens worked as an associate vice chancellor of student affairs and director of the Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

On May 8, CMU President Bob Davies announced Patterson-Stephens was selected for the position following an extensive nationwide search. Davies assured the university community that “the future of diversity and inclusion is bright” with Patterson-Stephens back on campus.

Patterson-Stephens will be responsible for achieving the university’s goal of becoming a more inclusive institute. She will directly work to create and enact a plan to increase CMU’s diverse and accepting environment.

“It’s really important to be accessible and understanding of students’ experiences and concerns,” says Patterson-Stephens. She wants to understand student services, campus life, and any potential equity or inclusion issues and shortcomings.

Patterson-Stephens says becoming a visible, well-known figure on campus is a goal of hers. She hopes to have an effective community outreach and appear welcoming to all students, faculty, and staff.

“Most of all, I want to give back and work to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion, which has been my focus even since undergrad,” says Patterson-Stephens. “I see a future of progress and improvement with the campus and community members I’ll have the chance to work with.”

Read more articles by Leona Falconer.

Leona Falconer is a Central Michigan University undergraduate student with focuses in the fields of public relations, journalism, and communication. With a hometown in Metro Detroit and a residence in Mt. Pleasant, she covers growth and innovation across all of Michigan. She currently writes for Epicenter Mt. Pleasant and Central Michigan Life. You can reach out to her at falco1l@cmich.edu or leonarosef16@gmail.com.