Chief officer for Diversity and Inclusion steps down

Photo+courtesy+of+Jessica+Cruz

Photo courtesy of Jessica Cruz

Ashley Beronja

On Feb. 8, President Fritz Erickson announced that Dr. Jessica Cruz, chief diversity and inclusion officer, would be stepping down from her position to move onto a new opportunity at the University of Michigan. Cruz will remain at NMU until March and work with the university to provide the necessary support that is needed for the transition in her position.

“On behalf of the NMU community, I want to thank Dr. Cruz for her work at Northern,” Erickson said. “[Cruz] has helped Northern to lay a solid foundation upon which we will continue to build our focus on diversity, equity and inclusion issues that are vital to the health and wellbeing of our university.”

Cruz came to NMU as part of the opportunity to serve as the inaugural chief diversity and inclusion officer. Previous to joining the NMU community, Cruz served as executive director and co-founder of the Center for [email protected] Studies at Ferris State University.

“I was excited to continue establishing new initiatives focused on equity in higher education with President Erickson here at NMU. I saw it as an opportunity to continue building on the legacy of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at the university,” Cruz said. “I was also excited to live on the shores of Lake Superior. Being originally from Puerto Rico, I am drawn to water. I instantly fell in love with the lake.”

Cruz has been with NMU for the past five years leading NMU’s solutions towards diversity, equity and inclusion. During her time at NMU, Cruz has established place-based, community-driven partnerships with universities focusing on equity and education. Leora Tadgerson, community engagement and program manager, described Cruz as a gem to the campus community. 

“My favorite thing about Dr. Cruz is her passion to help students achieve their goals and inspire those around her,” Tadgerson said. “I’ve seen this many times from interactions with ReImagine STEM, to the DSA to Aim North. The Aim North program specifically, since before COVID-19 times, we would be able to go into the communities. We had spent some great time with students in Detroit and Flint.” 

Tadgerson continued by describing Cruz as always being a powerhouse of positivity and especially when coming to community work. The two have worked together for the past five years on work based around the Five-Point plan for campus cultural centers from Penn State University’s Paul Robeson Cultural Center. The plan models cultural education and engagement to design and deliver all of its programs and services.

“These points include cultural education, cultural engagement, cultural student development, cultural community building and cultural environment enhancement,” Tadgerson said.

Examples of this plan that have been implemented at NMU include the support of the implementation of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, MLK Day, the Hispanic/Latino Graduation Celebration in Lansing and obtaining lavender cords to honor the LGBTQA students and acknowledge the accomplishments those students have made.

Cruz has accepted a new job offer at the University of Michigan leading the Just Futures Initiative in the Center for Social Solutions in the College of Literature, Science and Arts. accepted a job offer at the University of Michigan leading the Just Futures Initiative in the Center for Social Solutions in the College of Literature, Science, and the Art.

“The work is focused on building sustainable community-university partnerships focused on equity in communities across the country,” Cruz said. “As someone who is deeply passionate about building place-based, community-driven initiatives, I’m excited.”

Cruz said that she is excited for the new job opportunity and grateful to be closer to her family, but will miss her friends at NMU and in Marquette. Cruz continued by stating that serving as chief diversity and inclusion officer at NMU has been an honor.

“I will miss the creative energy. There is something special about NMU. I will miss collaborating with so many colleagues across the university. For instance, Leora Tadgerson, Lesley Larkin and Alexa Alagon in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the Student Equity and Engagement Center always have ideas for meaningful, engaging initiatives,” Cruz said. “I am so grateful for their support and creative ideas these past few years. Also, Diversity Student Alliance members always have fun, creative ideas and Gerri Daniels and others in Admissions Office are always willing to explore new partnerships! I will miss working with them and so many others across campus.”

Of the long list of accomplishments Cruz has made during her time at NMU, after her departure, Tadgerson would like to see a continuous push for more inclusive spaces, programming and representation at the university. Tadgerson said that for that to continue, it has to star with more BIPOC saff and faculty and the campus community as a whole becoming educated in ways to best support the those members authentically.

“Investing in an infrastructure that will support the needs of diverse campus populations is key, especially for retention,” Tadgerson said. “We get students as well as staff and faculty here from all across the nation, but this will not feel like their second home unless we are able to support their diverse needs more fully.”

Tadgerson suggests simple starting points such as integrating more halal dishes in the dining halls, a proficient natural hair salon along with funding the cosmetology department to be more supportive in the art of teaching in and a long-term LGBTQA center for counseling and support.

“Even integrating bilingual signage on campus to advocate for the revitalization of endangered Indigenous languages, specifically Anishinaabe dialects of the Three Fires Confederacy,” Tadgerson said. “This last initiative would further support the land acknowledgment that so many people have chosen to include in their official NMU email signatures and speeches.”

Tadgerson hopes that NMU will continue to honor all of Cruz’s heartwork that has been done for the university and continue to follow through with the stepping stones that Cruz has laid down.

“I hope the committee will consider the importance of community into the work just as much as Jessica had,” Tadgerson said. “It really brought a wonderful human aspect to a difficult and rewarding job.”

As someone who has worked alongside Cruz during her career at NMU, Tadgerson admits that she is sad about Cruz’s departure, however happy for Cruz and her family.

“It is a great opportunity for her to teach another community, a much larger community, how to best take care of their most vulnerable populations. That’s what I love about her,” Tadgerson said. “She dives headfirst into learning what a community lacks and does her best to remedy it through education and ongoing initiatives. She really lets her background in critical race theory shine through, on a regular basis.”

As Cruz prepares to step down from her position at NMU and continue her career at the University of Michigan, Cruz advises the new chief diversity and inclusion officer to understand that every moment is different and everybody will navigate through work different.

“I would perhaps encourage the next CDIO at NMU to continue working closely with the Diversity Student Alliance, the President’s Committee on Diversity, the President’s Committee on Gender and Sexuality and other key groups to continue building DEI coalitions at NMU and across the UP,” Cruz said. “The Diversity Student Alliance has particularly been helpful in embedding the student voice in DEI work at NMU. Together, these groups help provide input as NMU continues building the infrastructure to support an equitable climate for all at the university.”