NMU welcomes chief diversity and inclusion officer

Von Lanier

As a result of the realignment plan rolled out by President Fritz Erickson at the start of the semester, NMU has added a new chief diversity and inclusion officer, Jessica Cruz, to the administration.

Cruz was born in Chicago, but most of her early childhood memories are from the city of Yauco, which faces the Caribbean in southwestern Puerto Rico. At the age of six, she migrated  with her family from the island to Grand Rapids, where she spent the rest of her adolescent years.Cruz. CDIO. Final

She attended Grand Valley State University (GVSU) and earned two bachelor’s degrees, one in public administration with an emphasis on community development and the other in French.

“Community development has been a very strong theme in my work,” Cruz said.

As part of her French learning experience at GVSU, Cruz studied abroad in France. She said it was nice to view community development through an international lens when she studied abroad later in Chile.

“I got to connect with the indigenous communities in Chile and the Afro-Chilean community that, at the time, the government said did not exist and has since gained legal recognition,” Cruz said.

It was those two things that connected her with the community-driven work that she does now, she said.

“So when I went on to grad school, I wanted to focus on education with a really strong community component.”

Cruz’s plan to make minority inclusion more possible at NMU will take a look at structural diversity on campus. She plans to galvanize efforts to make the curriculum more representative of minority experiences in and out of the classroom, minimizing any adversity minorities may face.

Cruz faced her own share of adversity transitioning from the Latino ethnicity of Puerto Rico to the predominantly Mexican Latino community of a place like Grand Rapids.

She said the adjustment from Puerto Rican culture to the rest of Western society early in her life helped her develop the navigational tools and strategy which made it easier to overcome later obstacles.

“Ultimately, what I’m excited about, and what I think Northern is also excited about, is what I called place-based and community-driven initiative,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of opportunity in genuinely connecting with community.

“This initiative will focus on establishing trust within a community or assessing the trust that’s already there by figuring out what is it that we can do and what areas we haven’t been in before.”

These areas, according to Cruz, are enrollment, campus climate and strategic planning for diversity.

After receiving her doctorate in international educational development from the Teacher’s College at Columbia University in New York, she now specializes in higher and postsecondary education as well as bilingual and bicultural education.

Cruz said her research with campus climate framework at Columbia is a useful tool to implement when working on policy and practice in higher

“There’s five or six elements to the framework that help you to think through how students, faculty and staff might feel on a college campus, and that way you can have specific action items to help make sure everyone on campus feels welcome and included,” she said. “That, of course, increases a sense of belonging, which is connected to higher graduation rates and higher retention rates for faculty and staff.”

After moving to the U.P. in the middle of January, Cruz said she  has had a couple of weeks to adjust to the community, and so far she loves it. She is excited to get to work and said she feels Northern has a dynamic team.

“Everyone I’ve met right now seems like someone who really thinks outside of the box,” Cruz said. “That to me, means innovation, it means creativity, it means there’s different ways of doing different kinds of work. I’m sensing a lot of that here, whether it’s faculty or administration or students and that, to me, is exciting.”

Cruz said her hobbies include an active lifestyle of being outdoors, hiking and even

She enjoys percussion music that consists of instruments such as bongos and congas, which she grew fond of back in Puerto Rico.