The Interview USA
Stony Brook University
Vice President of Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer

Judith Brown Clarke

The digital age has ushered in unprecedented information access for students in Higher Education (HE). While this abundance of knowledge presents exciting possibilities, it also necessitates critical thinking skills. By fostering a spirit of curiosity about diverse perspectives and developing the ability to assess information quality, educators can empower students to become discerning consumers of knowledge and engage with complex issues in an informed and nuanced way.

Max Webber, Co-Host of The Interview, caught up with Judi Brown Clarke, Vice President of Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer at Stony Brook University and Stony Brook Medicine, to discuss the importance of conflict resolution and communication skills for HE students. 

Judi's Journey

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

My name is Judi Brown Clarke; I’m Vice President of Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer at Stony Brook University and Stony Brook Medicine on Long Island, New York. We have a 26,000-strong student body. The beauty of this role is that it encompasses Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) for all students, faculty, and staff, as well as our hospital employees, clinicians and patients. 

Max: What drew you to working in DEI?

It’s been an evolution. I am an Olympic silver medalist and Pan-American Games gold medalist, so I bring that athletic background and strategy consistently into my work. I see a lot of parallels between sports and DEI; you’re working with a diverse collective of people, ensuring an inclusive environment where everyone feels valued and supported to achieve the highest outcomes. 

Max: What’s your biggest focus in building a sense of belonging and inclusion on campus?

Inclusive programs, policies, and procedures that promote DEI and a sense of belonging on campus. This includes accountability measures for accessing progress and reporting systems for any incidences of harassment, discrimination, or bias. We have strategically developed professional development training and resources to equip our campus community with the core skills required to create a welcoming environment, these skills include managing implicit biases, conflict resolution, empathetic listening, and navigating difficult conversations.

Max: How are you looking to engage students with DEI initiatives at scale? 

It starts with community engagement in creating learning opportunities for different groups of students to share their experiences and perspectives.  This means we co-create our programming with our students, which counters the build-it-and-they-will-come scenario and creates a “meeting them where they are” context. This requires the use of case studies and experiential learning opportunities, so students can see themselves in the content of what we’re offering. We must also demonstrate these values with integrity and consistency. As an institution, we can’t ask students to do things that aren’t being modeled across the university. The programming we offer needs to be best practice, but it’s equally important that students consistently see tho campus-wide. 

Max: How are you working to ensure students engage with one another respectfully, particularly in light of the increasingly polarized political landscape?

It’s definitely a challenge. Teaching our students the skill of empathetic listening is key; they are learning how to listen with the intention of understanding other people’s perspectives without the expectation of agreeing. We also need to show them how to engage in healthy debate without projecting their emotions onto others; it’s a critical leadership skill that requires discipline. A great example of this is protesting – protesting can be emotionally charged, but when students focus on their message and manner of communication, instead of their emotions, they can create space for respectful dialogue and understanding.

Max: How has your approach to DEI changed post-COVID?

Post-COVID, we’ve seen our students develop an increasing reliance on information, but the quality of information has become problematic. It’s so easy to access information these days; our challenge in HE is teaching students how to think critically about the information they digest. We want to empower students to be curious about different perspectives and seek multiple sources of information. We also need to teach them the skills required to assess the quality and integrity of their information sources so they can engage with topical issues in an informed way. 

Max: How do you support staff in being open to new ideas and approaches to improving student engagement?

Being resilient and forward-thinking is fundamental in sports, so it’s been the norm for me; I want to bring this way of thinking to my team. I want to coach our teams to keep up with the fast pace and ever-changing landscape of HE. This includes supporting staff in embracing new ideas for student engagement, fostering a culture of innovation through professional development, collaborative spaces, and the recognition of creative teaching efforts. I try to encourage risk-taking by providing resources and support for pilot programs. It is important to facilitate regular feedback loops with students and colleagues for continuous improvement and offer time for staff to develop and implement new strategies.  

Max: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received across the course of your career? 

You win or learn; failing is your first attempt at learning. This advice is powerful because it’s asset-based, not deficit-based – it invites you to pull wisdom from the experiences you might perceive as failures. When something doesn't go as expected, you can unpack why that might’ve been. Then, on your next attempt, you can take those lessons learned and put yourself in a position of high-performing success.

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Max Webber
Max works closely with people leaders and change-makers in our professional services markets. If you're looking to feature on The Interview, or simply want to learn more about GoodCourse, then get in touch at

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