Q and A with the Director of CDI

Southern Utah University and the Center for Diversity and Inclusion welcomed Dr. Joel Berrien Jr. as the new Director of CDI in December 2019.

Originally from Georgia, Berrien and his wife, Tasha Toy moved to Utah about a year and a half ago, as both of them accepted positions to work at Dixie State University. 

Despite enjoying his time in St. George, Berrien felt a strong desire to make a move up to Cedar when he saw the position of CDI Director posted online.

Berrien recently sat down with the University Journal to talk about what he hopes to achieve as the Director of CDI.

Q: What are your personal goals for the Center of Diversity and Inclusion?

A: I want to be a good leader… to be a transformational leader. I have been blessed with this position. So, I want to evoke change, but I also want to empower students to be the best they can be. 

Being people of color, we oftentimes are carrying our communities and families on our backs. Many of us are first-generation college students. I am the first male on both sides of my family to graduate from college, and to come out with four degrees was unthinkable. A lot of the people I hung out with are dead or in prison right now, and that is just my story. There are many stories like that in the CDI. So I want to encourage them to strive to accomplish not only their individual goals but also realize their leadership potential. 

I also would like to help foster an atmosphere of “family” for the CDI because we truly are all in this together, despite the fact we have multiple cultures, multiple ethnicities present in the CDI. We are still one big family. We have more in common than not in common.

Q: Where do you see the CDI in ten years?

A: I see the CDI being a beacon of hope, a beacon of diversity and inclusion. Not just for SUU, but for all of Southern Utah.

I want the CDI to expand to the point where this area is too small for us because our goals have grown, and we have accomplished so much. We will be leaders on campus, in the community, and the nation. We started with humble beginnings, but we are doing great things. We are making a difference on campus, a difference in individual student lives of all ethnicities and cultures, not just the people in the CDI. 

Q: What does inclusion mean to you?

A: Inclusion to me goes beyond skin color, goes beyond language barriers, and goes beyond defined ethnicities and culture. Any population that feels marginalized or is deemed marginalized needs to be included. Unfortunately, the hegemonic culture in which many of us find ourselves living, forces some people to the margins. 

Whatever group, whatever people, whoever feels marginalized, to me, is included under our umbrella of inclusion. It goes beyond ethnicity, race, or whatever social constructs there are. 

Q: Why do you feel diversity is so essential for the success of this university?

A: I think it is very important that we not only increase awareness of diversity on this campus but celebrate it. Celebrate the fact that we are all individuals and have differences and how we can look at these differences as growth and learning opportunities, so we can go back and forth and help build bridges instead of tearing them down.

I would rather build bridges instead of walls. 

Q: What are you most looking forward to during your very first semester at SUU?

A: I want to be an example to our students of color in regards to the fact that despite being a member of a marginalized population and community, they can achieve their goals.

You can come from a single-parent home as I did. You can rise above the street life like I was able to. You can be secure in who you are and your ethnicity, culture, and sexual orientation with your disabilities like I am. 

You can be proud of who you are despite your zip code or the region or neighborhood you came from. And that you are worthy to be here amongst your peers and colleagues. You are equally as able to become the scholar you hope and are striving to be. You can accomplish anything you set your mind to, and I am here for you.

For students wanting to learn more about the center click here.

Story by: Cassidy Harmon
Photo Courtesy of Lacy Turman