Stephens College Hires First Director of Diversity | KBIA

Stephens College Hires First Director of Diversity

Nov 18, 2019

 

Shaashawn Dial has worn a lot of hats. She’s a poet. A former host of an R&B radio station. A former head of equity and affirmative action in a state capitol. A business owner. 

But perhaps the most important role is a mentor. She’s helped people leave abusive relationships, adults get their GEDs and undergraduate students navigate college life. 

And now Dial is the first director of diversity, equity and inclusion at Stephen's College.

“I am about women making decisions for themselves mentally, physically, spiritually, economically,” Dial said.

Sometimes that work includes advocating for creative writing materials to have people from diverse backgrounds. Other times, it’s finding a place to display original artwork that showcases historical and influential members of the LGBTQ community.

“There's not a whole lot of people who always want to sign up for something where you just know, there's not a destination,” Dial said. “I'm never going to get some sash that says, ‘Shaashawn S. Dial is Mrs. Inclusive USA,’ it's not going to happen and I don’t want it to happen.”

She also works with people to make sure they talk about military status, ability and gender identity. Even better - she gets to do this at her alma mater.

Dial said living and working with women at Stephens is how she gained a fundamental respect for women.

Whether it was a classmate who wanted to have her own family or a classmate who wanted to own a business, Dial says Stephens is a place with “magic,” where students can “think about why you believe what you believe and to give yourself permission to evolve.” 

She traces her path to Stephens back to the now-retired professor Tina Parke-Sutherland.

I remember when I came to campus to compete for a scholarship at Stephens, she was the person who looked at me and said, ‘We need you here. We want you, you're going to make Stephens better.’ And then she would say ‘Oh, and by the way, I mean, you're going to be impacted by this place and Stephens is great.’”

Now, more than 20 years later, it’s Dial’s turn to tell people that Stephens’ needs them.

COMPLETE TRANSCRIPT

[introduction music]

Host: Welcome to Exam on KBIA, I'm Kassidy Arena and each week we talk everything education all across Missouri.

Shaashawn Dial has worn a lot of hats. She’s a poet. A former host of an R&B radio station. A former head of equity and affirmative action in a state capitol. A business owner. 

But perhaps the most important role is a mentor. She’s helped people leaving abusive relationships, adults getting their GEDs and undergraduate students navigating college life. 

And now Dial is Stephens College’s first director of diversity, equity and inclusion. 

KBIA’s Isabel Lohman spent time with Dial recently and has this.

[voices greeting each other]

Lohman: It’s a Thursday night and Shaashawn Dial is at a poetry reading by Stephens alum Krysten Hill. When she gets there, she sees Tina Parke-Sutherland, the professor who got her to come to Stephens in the first place.

[voice: "You are here...someone had to hold down the fort."]

DialIt was Tina Park-Sutherland, who has since retired professor here, amazing, who was my English professor. And I remember when I came to campus to compete for a scholarship at Stephens, she was the person who looked at me and said, “We need you here. We want you, you're going to make Stephens better.” And then she would say “Oh, and by the way, I mean, you're going to be impacted by this place and Stephens is great.”

Lohman: Now, more than 20 years later, it’s Dial’s turn to tell people that Stephens’ needs them. 

She’s the school’s first director of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Dial says the college where she lived and learned with women is also where she gained a fundamental respect for women.

DialI literally between 18 and 22 years old, could turn to my right and turn to my left. And there could be a woman who said, I'm here to educate myself.

Lohman: So she helps women do that.

Dial: I am about women making decisions for themselves mentally, physically, spiritually, economically. 

Lohman: Sometimes that work includes advocating for creative writing materials to have people from diverse backgrounds. Other times, it’s finding a place to display original artwork that showcases historical and influential members of the LGBTQ community.

She also works with people to make sure they are talking about military status, ability and gender identity.

And that’s a lot of things. 

DialThere's not a whole lot of people who always want to sign up for something where you just know, there's not a destination. I'm never going to get some sash that says, Shaashawn S. Dial is Mrs. Inclusive USA, it's not going to happen and I don’t want it to happen.

[poetry readings in the background, Dial sighs]

Lohman: We’re at the poetry reading. For Dial, spending time at campus events is part of diversity and inclusion work. 

DialLanguage has weight and I think my ability to be a poet helps as well, because I always try to infuse the arts in these spaces and conversations. And so I think it's a little bit of everything. There isn't one way to be a diversity, equity and inclusion professional. 

Lohman: While she’ll probably never get that Ms. Inclusive ally sash, she’s happy to work at a place where she says magic happens.

I’m Isabel Lohman, KBIA News, Columbia.

Host: That was Isabel Lohman talking with Stephens College's first director of diversity, equity and inclusion. I'm Kassidy Arena and this is Exam on KBIA.

[outro music]