Toward a more inclusive Manchester

More diverse student body calls University to lean into differences, create more welcoming environment


Manchester University is more diverse than ever. There are first-generation college students, students from diverse ethnic heritages, students from a range of religious and language traditions, students who are parents and LGBTQ and transgender students.

MU’s diverse students enhance who Manchester is as an institution and help the University live into its mission to respect the infinite worth of every individual.  A diverse student body and a community commitment to equity, justice and inclusion challenge Manchester to create a learning experience that supports every student it enrolls and to address its own institutional barriers to equity.

As Manchester becomes a more diverse institution, it is recommitting itself to diversity, equity and inclusion work that creates a welcoming environment for all students. 

Celia Cook-Huffman ’86, Ph.D., vice president for academic affairs, uses the language of “inclusive excellence” to frame how this work will affect academics.

“As educators, we need to pay attention to the cultural differences that our learners bring to the educational experience,” she told trustees at a recent meeting. “We know that diversity in our classrooms strengthens all of us as learners.” Inclusive excellence requires us to “pay attention to those cultural differences and utilize them in our classrooms to build strong and powerful learning environments.” In essence, she adds, “We need to be as changed by our students as they may be by us.”

One aspect of this work is for Manchester to ensure all students know they belong here, “as we know that a sense of belonging is a critical dynamic in students’ ability to succeed and persist.”

As the chair of President Dave McFadden’s ’82 Diversity and Inclusion Council (PDIC), Alicia Dailey, Ph.D., assistant professor of social work, is leading the creation of a strategic plan that identifies key diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives across all areas of the institution.

Among the PDIC’s goals, says Dailey, is to create a more equitable and inclusive climate at Manchester and to attract and retain more diversity among the faculty and staff. She encourages colleagues to reflect on their own intercultural journeys and explore ways that they can help address racism at Manchester.

Two faculty members who have started those conversations are Heather Schilling ’90, Ph.D., professor of education, and Kierstan Hanson, Pharm.D., associate professor of pharmacy practice and the inclusion and wellness coordinator on the Fort Wayne campus. The two have teamed up to facilitate discussions among colleagues about pivotal books about racism, including White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo and How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi.

 “The conversations were difficult and meaningful,” the two said after the exploration of White Fragility. “Racism has deep, deep roots, and if we are to be disruptors, we have a lifetime of work ahead of us.”

They added that everyone who works at Manchester – administrators, faculty, coaches, professional staff and support staff – “must model antiracism for our students.”

Also in that spirit, Schilling launched Common Ground, what she calls a grassroots movement focused on difficult conversations around race, LGBTQ and other issues facing our community. Pre-pandemic, the group met for an hour a week to share their personal experiences and promote understanding.

At the heart of Manchester’s multicultural awareness is Maegan Pollonais, D.A., director of student diversity and inclusion. Her mission, she says, it to help students of color feel like they belong in the MU community.

“I often think of my own experience,” says Pollonais, “that sense of belonging, that sense of purpose, and knowing that there’s someone there looking out for you, someone who believes in your mission, someone who is on that campus intentionally and specifically to see you succeed.”

Pollonais wants to be that person for MU students.

One of her efforts involves Brothers Speak Out, a program she envisioned, planned and implemented at MU. Brothers Speak Out focuses on helping men of color find their sense of belonging at Manchester and persisting to graduation. It also encourages more alumni of color to connect with current students and talk about their own experiences.

Pollonais’ office also offers Power Hours, designed for the entire student body to talk about timely issues such as racism and homophobia.

In addition, MU’s Office of Human Resources this year is collaborating with Ball State University to offer colleagues training on “Inclusivity as a Means of Breaking Barriers.” The three-session series has included explorations of diversity and inclusion as a benefit, and implicit biases and micro aggressions.

The efforts at Manchester are also reaching beyond the two campuses.  

For a group of Indiana college and university presidents, the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, was a tipping point.

Nine presidents, including McFadden, met virtually in July, along with dozens of Indiana state, city and civic leaders to “listen and better understand how to advance the work of racial justice and transformation.”

In a joint statement, the presidents said, “We lament the brutal deaths of innocent African-American men and women that have created such pain, anger and frustration for our communities.  We grieve over the violence and division that threaten to tear apart the social fabric of our communities and our nation.  As persons of faith, and leaders of Christ-centered universities, we wish to come together to do all we can do to promote the well-being of the people and communities we serve.”

In all, the conversation involved two state senators, representatives from two congressional offices, mayors, law enforcement, NAACP leaders, and other civic leaders who reiterated the importance of collective action to rid Indiana of the effects of systemic racism.

For Manchester’s part, McFadden this winter received Board of Trustees approval for a board task force on diversity, equity and inclusion at Manchester, with the goal of creating a permanent standing committee to address those issues and to identify goals for the board and the University.