Inside Track: Bringing a ‘welcoming spirit’ to tough issues
New director of Center for Diversity, Inclusion and Equity at Aquinas College is unafraid to tackle hard topics with grace.
As in the business world, one of the main barriers to diversity and inclusion in higher education circles is ignorance, Alicia Lloyd said.
The recently appointed director of the rebranded Center for Diversity, Inclusion and Equity at Aquinas College said her greatest asset in her new role is her comfort level with communicating uncomfortable truths when people need to hear them.
“I think that I have a friendly personality and a welcoming spirit,” she said. “I’m very comfortable with talking about things that may not be the most comfortable or that people enjoy.
“I feel comfortable communicating those things and communicating about concerns around equity and diversity and inclusion, and in a way that keeps that welcoming and hospitable spirit.”
Lloyd is the first director of the center who also serves as special adviser to the president, attending cabinet meetings.
She also is the first person at the college whose job it is to focus on equity — which seeks to provide not just equality or fairness but equal access to the resources needed for success.
Part of this includes enforcing Title IX compliance, but the rest is less scripted, allowing her to forge a creative path.
Lloyd said she was blessed to have a family who fostered her growth and development at every turn.
She attended Renaissance High School, one of four “magnet schools” in the Detroit Public Schools district that ranks among the U.S. News & World Report’s “Best High Schools” for college readiness.
“My family has always been very big on education,” she said. “It really was never optional whether I would go on to college and choose a professional area to study in college. I was blessed to have parents who exposed me to their college stories. I was watching my older cousins, my sister, go to college, and it was always something I was exposed to.”
She said she was aware this was not the case for many peers.
“Growing up in the inner city and seeing a lack of resources for students and all schools not having the same resources, it was definitely something I was passionate about — giving back,” Lloyd said.
During high school, a recruiter invited her to Allendale, where she visited Grand Valley State University and made her college choice.
“That was a very influential moment for me, so I want to make sure other college students know about the opportunity they have here in West Michigan, specifically here at Aquinas,” she said. “I always wanted to be that same resource that was given to me.”
Lloyd earned a Bachelor of Science degree in advertising with an emphasis in public relations from GVSU, then a master’s degree in adult and higher education with a focus in college student affairs leadership, also at GVSU.
“I originally started off as a business major when I came to Grand Valley,” she said. “I started taking the courses, did an internship and figured out it wasn’t the route I wanted to go. I had a friend whose major was PR, so that’s what I got into. It was a rich learning experience in class work. However, when I came to graduate, it didn’t feel like the right work environment.”
A mentor at GVSU noticed Lloyd’s extensive involvement in college activities and her passion for helping others and suggested she consider the master’s degree program.
“I didn’t even know that was an option, to still work with college students after college. I said, ‘This is the perfect opportunity.’ I applied, got in and did an assistantship working with student-athletes.”
After completing her assistantship, Lloyd accepted a position in the Office of Residence Life at Miami University in Miami, Ohio.
“It affirmed my love for working with students because I was living with the RAs (resident assistants) and the students in our building. It’s a different level of saturation because it’s 24 hours a day. But I enjoyed the programming and the staff and students.”
Before long, Grand Valley called her home, offering her a job as a senior academic adviser leading the Laker Academic Success Center and letting her reprise her role working with student-athletes.
She worked in numerous other roles at GVSU, in the Dean of Students Office, Student Affairs and the Office of Multicultural Affairs.
The latter gave her the springboard into her new job.
“Those relationships I was able to build and watching the students make it all the way through to graduation, that was gratifying,” she said.
“Although I was leaving Grand Valley, that’s when you hear more stories about the impact you’ve had. I heard from students about what I contributed to their lives, and it was emotional. This is definitely the work I feel like I’m called to do.”
Lloyd said her passion for equity always drove her, even before she had words to define it.
“I think, honestly, it was something so ingrained in my thought processes and how I did my work I don’t think I always knew what to call it,” she said. “Technically at Grand Valley, I was working with student-athletes, a diverse group of students, and a lot of the issues that come up here came up with them. It gave me transferable skills from that position to this, and it prepared me to be excited about it.
“I always knew this was the type of office I would be in. If I took a step outside of advising, this was the direction I wanted to go.”
Lloyd said the most difficult piece of diversity, inclusion and equity work is waking people up.
“Being aware of what is going on in our community, aware of programs, support, making sure students, faculty and staff are all educated, know the resources that are available and that it’s everybody’s job, everybody’s responsibility — that’s one of those things that’s never-ending,” she said.
She spends a lot of her time leading departmental training. But some of her work is more organic.
“I want there to be passive opportunities to learn but also active — whether it’s signage in seating areas, like in January with our MLK march, or training, or bringing speakers to campus that are related to diversity and inclusion, or understanding Title IX and what it means to our campus populations,” Lloyd said.
Lloyd’s proudest career moments have involved watching at-risk students make it to the finish line.
“Not only did they beat the odds (against) them since they were a child, but to see them make their families proud and be a part of that graduation experience, those are the most gratifying moments. You get to experience that joy with them,” she said.
Goal No. 1 for Lloyd at Aquinas is to strengthen the Center for Diversity, Inclusion and Equity so students are drawn to it as a safe place.
According to the Aquinas College website, 14 percent of Aquinas students are U.S. ethnic minorities, 2 percent of students are international students, 62.5 percent of students are female and 37.5 percent are male.
“Our programming is specifically to support our students of color in feeling welcome, comfortable and making sure they have the resources they need,” she said.
“It’s also important that although we have those percentages, it’s important to realize we need to think about our whole college community. We want our students of color to feel supported, but we want all our students to go out into the diverse workforce prepared and having the skills they need to make impactful change in our society.”