The Southern Illinois University School of Dental Medicine (SIU SDM) has named Cornell Thomas, DDS, its chief diversity officer and director of its Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI).
Thomas will maintain his role as assistant dean for admissions and student services but will place a more focused and sustained emphasis on diversity and equity issues.
Thomas’ dedication to “lower barriers not lower standards” has been woven in his exemplary efforts to advance the SDM since his tenure began in 1979, SIU SDM said.
“Dr. Thomas has led numerous diversity efforts on our campus for several years, but due to his many other duties has not had the opportunity to devote the amount of effort we feel this role deserves,” said SIU SDM dean Bruce Rotter, DMD.
“This added emphasis on equity and diversity issues is both extremely important and timely for the future growth and direction of the SDM. Dr. Thomas’ leadership will positively affect all members of the SDM community,” Rotter said.
“I am honored to serve in this capacity. It is work that I have been doing, but I can now devote more time and energy to focus on this endeavor,” Thomas said.
“I have support from my dean, Dr. Bruce Rotter, who shares in my vision about the work in diversity, equity, and inclusion. He has provided the opportunity to move us forward. He has a clear insightfulness to bring change for the betterment of the SDM,” Thomas said.
“With his shared vision, we can make a difference in how we develop and sustain an inclusive environment in which faculty, staff, students, administrators, and patients can connect,” Thomas said.
Thomas will facilitate communication for the school to the essential values of antiracism, diversity, equity, and inclusion for faculty, staff, and students. He will provide support for Black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC), and historically underrepresented people at the SDM.
“The DEI Office will provide transparency across and among groups in an effort to increase the numbers of underrepresented minority (URM) faculty, staff, and students at the SDM,” Thomas said.
“The office will empower the campus community to maintain an environment as it relates to honesty, civility, and open-mindedness. The office will strive to dismantle systemic racism and oppression,” Thomas said.
“We can build a sense of togetherness and inclusivity in our teaching, research, and service to each other and the communities that we serve,” he said.
According to Thomas, specific initiatives include:
- Increasing enrollment of URMs and increasing the number of faculty and staff of color
- Providing diversity and inclusion training to continue a safe and welcoming environment on campus
- Developing and implementing a plan to recruit faculty from underrepresented groups
- Providing advocacy for SDM students, faculty, and staff from underrepresented groups, other cultures and genders, races, and LGBTQIA groups
- Providing mentoring for these groups to thrive in the campus environment
In support of Thomas’ additional roles, admissions and records supervisor Angela Pritchett will take responsibility for the direction of daily operations in the SDM Office of Admissions and Student Services.