Leah Young grows Diversity, Equity & Inclusion on campus
What does Leah Young’s, Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI), job include?
-Countless DEI student events
-Monthly book clubs
-Daily one-on-one student discussions
-Running Diversity Educators Engaging PEACE (DEEP): A Peer Educator Program
… to name just a few of her many tasks.
Young has had her hands full since she started her role at William Peace University (WPU) in January 2021.
Previously serving as the Assistant Director for Student Transition and Success at NC State University, Young came to WPU to both serve students and grow WPU’s emphasis on DEI. She works to ensure the DEI Office provides a place for support and affirmation of the diversity in WPU’s student body.
“I want to distinguish WPU in its DEI efforts,” Young said. “I want WPU to truly and courageously embody diversity and respect.”
DEI is a part of the five-year-old Believe in Peace initiative. DEI refers to ethnicity, race, age, gender, ability, and religion, country of origin and more. The initiative is focused on giving events and programs to WPU students, faculty and staff that provide opportunities for support, advocacy, training & education and community building.
Because of WPU’s intimate campus size, Young believes she can bring concentrated growth to the campus. Her office is able to serve and intersect with multiple identities at once, she explained. Normally, larger universities have offices for each identity; however, at WPU these identities can collaborate and come together.
Young has been doing this through a variety of methods, like hosting student events.
“I take an intersectional approach to events,” Young said. “For example, I hosted an event for Indigenous People’s Day in October. The event featured a queer, transgender, two-spirit, indigenous artist. Their music was able to impact and reach multiple identities.”
Providing DEI for students, faculty, staff, and parents
Leah Young is working on a variety of tasks to promote and teach DEI on campus. Here’s a look at what she is doing:
Young has worked with students to host numerous events on campus. Events have included topics such as Our Culture is Not a Costume, What’s in a Name: How Identity Labels Help and Challenge the Unity of the Latinidad, National Coming Out Day, and more.
Young hosts a monthly book club for WPU students, faculty, staff, and alumni. In the Fall semester, the book club read books focused on Latinx Heritage Month, LGBTQIA+ History Month, and Native American Heritage Month.
Young wants to be able to meet with students one-on-one to listen to them or hold conversations on DEI. She wants to be authentic and open with students to help them as they explore what they believe and their identity.
Young has revised and expanded Diversity Educators Engaging Peace (DEEP) at WPU, thanks to an investment from First Horizon Bank. Currently, seven students are a part of the program. The program allows students to represent the DEI office, host DEI events, and facilitate student learning opportunities on campus.
Learn more about the Office of DEI at www.peace.edu/student-life/diversity-inclusion.
Young’s passion for DEI started with her mom. Young described her mom as courageous, thoughtful, strong, considerate and caring for others. Her mom’s example prompted Young to take interest in social justice. “I strive to make her proud,” she said.
When Young attended James Madison University, she studied social justice and family studies. She had planned to study these to be a lawyer, but college experiences shifted her career plans.
Her extracurricular activities, like working in the Office of Admissions, the Center for Multicultural Student Services and the residence halls, showed her that she had a passion for higher education. She found a love for providing support for students.
She realized her experiences set her up for a career on a college campus working in social justice areas. “I love working in higher education. I love connection with college students and providing them with support and representation,” Young said.
The supervisors and teachers around her helped her to see how she would be a great fit for this career path. She remembers one advisor, a Black woman, who taught her the power of being a role model for her identities. She inspired Young to strive to be a model for students at WPU, showing them how to be confident and what they can accomplish.
After her undergraduate studies, Young went on to receive a Master of Science of Education (M.S.Ed.) at Old Dominion University.
When reflecting on her college experiences, Young wants to remind students that college is a time to explore.
“On campus, you can explore what you believe, figure out who you are, and learn to be confident,” Young said. “Life doesn’t look like this after college. So take advantage of the college events and networking. Step outside of your comfort zone.”