Psychology professor leads effort to diversify UW-River Falls workforce

Posted November 17, 2015

A UW-River Falls psychology professor is leading the effort to diversify the campus. Cyndi Kernahan, a 17-year veteran of UWRF and a former chair of the Psychology Department, now also holds the title of the University Fellow for Diversity and Inclusivity.

Kernahan works on getting and retaining a more diverse workforce on campus. This includes faculty and staff who are from different countries and backgrounds.

“The most interesting part about this position,” Kernahan said, “is how to create a more inclusive campus, and how to improve the climate.”

Hosting events and raising awareness are among ways to get a more diverse workforce, Kernahan said.

“I also work with a diversity committee,” Kernahan said, “which is made up of faculty and instructors and staff that are all interested in diversity, and I work with them to help set up the events that we have.”

Kernahan’s position focuses on staff and faculty events, but she also works with Student Life, and in those cases the events are closely related to faculty and students together.

The latest event, hosted last month, featured civil rights activist Joanne Bland and a discussion on how to talk about race with other people in a broad sense. Kernahan worked with Chuyani Yang in Multicultural Student Services to get her to UW-River Falls.

An event in January will feature David Shih, a literature professor from UW-Eau Claire, who will talk to faculty and staff about building an inclusive campus.

Kernahan’s fellowship replaces the university’s chief diversity officer, a position that was not filled a couple of years ago
after Andriel Dees left for Capella University.

“This position was a way to fill some of the duties of that position without having a full-time hire,” Kernahan said.

Kernahan said that UW-River Falls is following the model of UW-Eau Claire and some other UW campuses where a faculty member works on building inclusivity on the campus and reports to the human resources office.

Kernahan said that her favorite part about the position is hosting events for the faculty and staff.

“I like faculty development and bringing in smart people to talk about stuff,” Kernahan said, “I like hosting events that are useful for other people.”

The position is under a two-year contract and as of now there is no word on whether it will be renewed. If not, Kernahan said that she would go back to teaching full time.

The position was created by the Faculty Senate’s Diversity and Inclusivity Committee, led by Professor Sandy Ellis of the Department of Communication and Media Studies.