For Kyra Shahid, Director of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI), every day is an opportunity to connect with students.
Some days it takes the form of sitting with them to talk about career aspirations, academic challenges or bias-related incidents. Other times it's leading a classroom discussion on topics like racism and privilege, or organizing heritage awareness months and cultural galas that invite the Xavier family to celebrate our diverse community.
"What I love about Xavier is the strong emphasis on the idea of cura personalis, or care for the whole person," says Shahid. "The work that I do allows me to not only help students understand who they are, but how their personal identities—whether racially, religiously, or gender-based—influence how they are educated and the way they approach their education."
Prior to her role as director of the Center, Shahid served as associate director of the CDI for three years. She co-chaired Xavier's working group to address its historical connections to slavery and serves as the vice president of educational initiatives for a national student leadership enterprise, Bryant Educational Leadership Group.
In 2018, she organized an educational trip to Senegal, where she and four Xavier students participated in leadership training and presented research at the International Symposium of the Dakar Institute of African Studies. Shahid and the students' research was later published into a book, Anti-Black Racism and Epistemic Violence.
We sat down with Shahid to talk about the Center, how students can get involved and some of her favorite memories at Xavier.
1. What is your vision for students who come to the CDI? What do you hope they walk away with?
"My hope is for students to own and fully understand that difference means value. I want them to feel a sense of belonging, and I want to show them that they can walk through the world unafraid to speak their truths. I also want them to come out of their comfort zones—whether that's connecting with people who look differently from them, have a different sexual orientation or different viewpoints.
"As a scholar practitioner, I often help students connect their sense of purpose with their identity, as well as services needed throughout the world. I believe the work you are called or compelled to do directly aligns with a need. That need can be better discerned if you are more in tune with who you are."
2. How would you describe the CDI? What are some specific programs and events offered?
"The Center and the people in it feel like family. It's a place where everyone is welcome. You can come in to study, laugh, talk about bias-related incidents or just be yourself.
"The Center offers daily one-on-one meetings with students about a range of topics. We provide mentorship to students, organize cultural galas and serve as advisors for social justice student organizations that focus on race, gender and sexuality, like Black Student Association, African Student Association, Hispanic Organization and LatinX Awareness, and Ladies with an Emphasis on Achievement and Distinction.
We also host bi-weekly racial roundtables, where we have conversations about racial justice and facilitate Smooth Transitions, our pre-orientation program for underrepresented students."
3. What are some of your favorite memories over the last three years at Xavier?
"The first memory that comes to mind is the overnight Manresa orientation for new faculty and staff. That night I felt a sense of peace and belonging that I had not felt in a long time. I met staff and we explored how to be different together. We talked about how to show up as our individual selves in a Jesuit university. It was affirming because I'm not Catholic, but I felt I fit into this Jesuit space and would be able to stay true to myself.
"Watching Father Graham dance with Eseoghene Obrimah (2018 John J. Elet, S.J., Scholar) during the 2018 Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony is also something I will never forget. They had a whole routine choreographed when she received her diploma. It was a beautiful moment and seeing young people and our community celebrate affirmed that I'm exactly where I want to be."
4. What are some opportunities for change at Xavier?
"Visibility in leadership roles is important. We want students in any major to be able to find someone like them on staff, whether that's someone who looks like them, has similar experiences, or someone who understands them.
"The University has been clear that we want a diverse student population. And while we have made strides pertaining to students, faculty and staff, more work needs to be done. We want to make sure our community is reflective of the diverse world we live in. There are already some great efforts underway."
5. What are you most looking forward to in your new role?
"I'm excited to see the fruit of the work we've done as a University over the last few years. 2019 will be a signature year for Xavier's diversity and inclusion work. This year marks the 50th anniversary of women being admitted as students at Xavier, and being a woman in this role, I want to build upon tradition but also not be afraid to cross into new territory."
Interview and story by Jen Saltsman, Senior Digital Strategist, Office of Marketing and Communications