The Interview USA
Western Michigan University
Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion

Candy McCorkle

A common misconception surrounding Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts is that they solely focus on supporting marginalized populations. In reality, by creating a more inclusive environment for our marginalized students, DEI work strengthens the educational experience for all members of the campus community. 

Max Webber, Co-Host of The Interview, caught up Dr. Candy McCorkle, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion at Western Michigan University, to discuss how they use programming and partnerships to build an inclusive campus environment.

Candy's Journey

Max: Let's start with a brief introduction to your institution.

I’m Dr Candy McCorkle, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion at Western Michigan University (WMU). We’re one of fifteen public institutions in the state of Michigan, founded initially as a teacher's college in 1903. We have a student body of just under 17,000 students. We also have an affiliation with the John Stryker Medical School. I’m a Western Michigan University alum, having completed my Ph.D. at the College of Education through the Counselor Education and Supervision program.

Max: How do you approach DEI at WMU?

Right now, DEI terminology is being weaponized in the US; 28 states have either passed or proposed anti-DEI legislation at the Higher Education (HE) level. We’re operating in challenging times. There is also the assumption that DEI work is about elevating people from marginalized populations, but DEI work is for everybody. What we do for marginalized groups supports all groups. When people ask me what I do, I tell them that I teach people how to be human. It’s about supporting our faculty and staff to recognize the humanity in others as well as themselves. When we can do that, we don’t minimize the contributions of others; we acknowledge their value.

Diversity is the most straightforward component of DEI; once you have two or more people, you have diversity. I like to focus on the equity and inclusion pieces of DEI as they’re intrinsically more complex. Inclusion is about creating space for all people to engage, contribute, and influence their community as their authentic selves, while equity is about ensuring we provide people with what they need to be able to do that. A few simple examples – I always encourage people to use non-gendered language; we run workshops on pronouns and why we use them. It’s important we use people’s preferred pronouns because it's important to them; even if we disagree, we choose to acknowledge their humanity. Similarly, I’m often teased for being the microphone police. People say they don’t need a microphone to amplify their voice, but they forget it can be a necessity for hearing-impaired people to hear and engage. We must be able to recognize and respect the experiences of others to make meaningful progress with DEI.

Max: How do you engage all students in creating an inclusive environment?

With 20+ years of experience as a Psychology Professor and a background in Student Affairs, I’m well-versed in working with students. At WMU, we leverage programming and partnerships with office departments and student organizations to engage our students. To foster an inclusive environment, we create opportunities for students to consistently engage with a diverse range of peers and staff through what I call ‘Cultural Collisions.’ These interactions allow our students to be exposed to diversity in their day-to-day and develop their understanding of others; this forms the foundation of true inclusion.

To improve visibility and student access to DEI programs, we’ve been strategic in ensuring they are located centrally within our Student Center. We also offer our ExperienceWMU program through our Career Services office; this allows students to receive credits for attending DEI-related events. Our programming is designed to attract the attention of different student groups and staff on campus; we’re constantly looking for ways we can engage all people in our community. Some great examples of this are our Martin Luther King (MLK) Academy, a student support program that provides developmental academic tutoring and psychosocial support for students; our College Assistant Migrant Program, which supports first-year students who are from a migrant worker background and our Disability Student Services that facilitate workshops for both staff and students to improve the college experience for students with disabilities.

To help first-year students find community on campus and feel a sense of belonging, our Multicultural Affairs offices facilitate a Multicultural meet-and-greet event. As part of this event, we offer a faculty panel; we make a point of including a diverse range of faculty members so that students can see people who look like them. This strengthens inclusion and further reinforces a sense of belonging for all students at WMU. At WMU we seek to ensure that all are seen, heard, and valued.

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Max Webber
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