Northwest Missouri State University announced the appointment of Dr. Juanita Simmons as its first vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion. This is a new senior leadership role designed to help broaden diversity, equity and inclusion efforts campus-wide for students and employees.
The university’s board of regents, which authorized the university to add the position in April, approved the hire on July 27.
“Dr. Simmons is the right leader at the right time and we welcome her to our learning community,” Northwest President Dr. John Jasinski said. “Her life and academic experiences are rich, real and perfectly suited to help us bolster our efforts in terms of access and success, teaching and learning, and campus and community climate.”
He added, “Our board of regents, faculty and staff, community and business leaders have been very supportive of our elevating the university’s strategic focus on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. This is a historic moment in time and we all realize that our work will not rest on the shoulders of one leader or one division, but rather we all will play a key role in actualizing intercultural competence, civility and unity for the ages.”
Simmons was one of three finalists to visit the Northwest campus during July to engage with campus and community leaders, in addition to meeting with students, faculty and staff during a series of open forums.
“Our candidate pool was incredibly strong and we are thankful for the work of our search committee and those involved in the interview process,” Northwest Vice President of Strategy and Operations Nola Bond said. Bond led the search committee. “Dr. Simmons emerged as a clear consensus choice and her credentials and ability to connect with varying individuals and groups will allow us to embed diversity, equity and inclusion work throughout all that we do.”
Simmons comes to Northwest from the University of Missouri-Columbia where she served as a faculty member since 2003, teaching educational leadership and policy analysis. Previously she served in various administrative roles in the Austin and Dallas, TX, independent school districts. She was a high school English, journalism and humanities teacher in the Dallas Independent School District.
She has a book under contract about emancipated leadership, holds numerous professional certifications and has earned an array of institutional honors. Her résumé includes several refereed articles, book chapters, conference proceedings and presentations. She has been awarded a variety of grants and contracts.
She has a Ph.D. and master’s degree, both in educational administration from the University of Texas-Austin. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English and speech from Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, TX.
Simmons, who began her work at Northwest on August 8, called the opportunity to serve at Northwest an honor and credited university and city of Maryville leadership for taking an active role in enhancing diversity, equity and inclusion. Those efforts are a direct result of Northwest’s strategic planning process and what is known as Strategic Objective 3: Enhancing, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
“My interaction with this community has proven to be synergistic and in direct alignment with my lifelong work for equity and respect of personhood,” Simmons said. “The vision of President Jasinski, the Northwest Leadership Team and the Strategic Objective 3 members speaks hope for the entire Maryville community to become a model for unity and goodwill. A model is critically needed to restore hope in the midst of our current national uncertainties. The growth and development plans of this city, as shown by Assistant City Manager Ryan Heiland, make this vision ripe for Maryville to be that beacon of light for the nation. It is my desire to work with others, including the faculty, staff and students, to help put this great vision into action.”
The university launched its search to fill the role after months of research, data analysis and conversations with students, faculty, staff and community members. Although the university has offered diversity programming for years, Jasinski said last spring that Northwest wanted to enhance the offerings.
Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Matt Baker said the need for the position is part of Northwest’s responsibility to prepare students to live and work in a diverse and rapidly changing environment.
Under the new structure, Simmons will report to Jasinski, have a seat with the Northwest Leadership Team and lead Northwest’s vision and planning for diversity, equity and inclusion. She will provide direct support and programs to assist marginalized students and employees, administer diversity programs and collaborate with other campuses.
The office of multicultural student success, which operated under the umbrella of student affairs, will be renamed the office of diversity and inclusion. Similarly, the Title IX/ADA office will be renamed the office of equity and accessibility and will expand support to include Title IX, ADA/504, and Title VI for students and employees.