By Hannah Newman
AS 2022 neared its close, the Center for Diversity and Inclusion welcomed Shaun Williams, a graduate student in education leadership as its new assistant director.
Williams, originally from St. Louis, Missouri, spent time growing up in South Jersey. He is a songwriter, singer and recording artist and holds a strong passion for music in his life.
Aside from dedicating time to his music, Williams strives to make diversity and inclusion an essential part of his daily life and has dedicated time to researching these matters and finding different ways to get heavily involved in educating the communities he serves. Williams holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Bloomfield College in New Jersey, where he now serves as an adjunct professor along with Camden County Community College and a masters degree in educational leadership from Montclair State University. Williams has over seven years of experience in higher education consisting of graduate admissions, disability resources, new student orientation, accounting, resident life, academic support and graduate life programming.
Williams’ passion for higher education was sparked his senior year of college when his English academic adviser inspired him to follow a similar career path; however, after receiving his master’s degree, Williams knew he wanted his career to be supporting diversity, equity and inclusion.
“I know its hard for people to accept things that they don’t understand…. People, they often rebuke or may act out in fear or anger of things they don’t understand among different sets of people, but just building up that level of respect to accept that there are differences and that it’s okay: that is what makes being diverse a beautiful thing,” said Williams. “That is a never-ending fight that I have had since I was a kid up until now. It’s still that same notion of ‘we can all be different, we all are human, but we have differences, and that needs to be reflected.’”
Executive Director for the Center of Diversity and Inclusion Pamela Pruitt shared her sense that Williams can shape the narrative of the Rider community and close gaps between different groups of people due to the several positions he holds at the university.
“Shaun’s perspective is probably going to be different from most candidates because not only is he the assistant director, but he is a student and I think that will bring another dimension to it because he is who we serve,” said Pruitt.
In terms of Black History Month, Williams expressed that this month defines more than just the celebration of Black excellence in his eyes. It is a monumental moment in time for humanity which is something he hopes to stress during his time as assistant director of diversity and inclusion.
“Black History Month is for everyone. It’s not only a celebration of African American history, but it just goes to show that African Americans are not only powerful people and powerful figures, but we are just like everyone else and I love that it is a month that we get to honor each other, we get to learn about each other and great things that have happened… I think it’s also an important moment for everyone to come together to not just celebrate black excellence and black figures, but to lift one another and everyone up during this moment of celebration,’ said Williams. “I think that it’s not just the past and the present, but I think it’s a preface of goodness to come in the future too.”
Over the course of history, both recent and centuries ago, oppression has always been present. However the opposing forces toward this act over the course of time are a product of unity that has strengthened immensely over the past decade, something Williams has seen as a result of being fed up with feeling silenced by these continuous acts.
“I think that people are tired. If you go over the last couple of years its very obvious that many challenging things have happened,” said Williams. “It’s all in the news media, but I think some personal things that I have seen [that] make me happy is that people are speaking out [about] discrimination, gun violence, LGBTQ+ rights; people of color, especially women of color, are advocating and talk about how they are not being represented or treated fairly.”
Williams reflected how far society has come in terms of speaking out against discriminatory acts over the last decade since he was a college student himself.
“I am starting to see a shift with different things, but this type of work is ever evolving and there are always new things that are on the rise,” said Williams. “To now know that this is something that is an initiative that is going around and that it is being pushed even more than it was, that lets me know that we are on our way to some good. That keeps me inspired and it keeps me going and it lets me know that I still have work that I need to do not just for students and others but for myself. We all are different, we all have different sets of challenges and I think the only way that we can get over those challenges is if we all come together to work for the greater good.”
In order to contribute our efforts to building a greater sense of unity to the world, the Rider community will be hosting a series of events throughout February beginning on the Feb. 1 with a flag raising at 11:30 a.m. hosted by the Black Student Union (BSU) in the Bart Luedeke Center (BLC) Plaza.
“I want to see more white faces, blacks know the story and then there are blacks that need to learn the story, but we need others to come see and learn about what we have to offer and to become more acclimated to the black culture,” said Pruitt.
Williams has found that his position within diversity and inclusion has taught him a lot already, but the lessons learned from this experience will be ongoing as he hopes to learn from the students and faculty around him.
“It gives you the resources and knowledge that you need to be the change and to make the changes and that’s what I hope to gain from this experience,” said Williams.
This article is part of the Shedding Light on Black Excellence, a February series by The Rider News to showcase impactful Black figures at Rider University.