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.”