Monique Jernigan, assistant director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI), will be leaving her position on May 13.
Jernigan came to Kenyon in 2012 as assistant director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, which the College rebranded as the ODEI in 2014. At various times, she advised the Black Student Union (BSU), Sisterhood and the Discrimination Advisors (DAs).
During her time at Kenyon, Jernigan grappled with the homogeneous demographics of Knox County, where more than 75 percent of the residents are white, according to 2014 data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Jernigan said that as a young black woman with no children, she often felt socially isolated while working at Kenyon, and she hopes the College will focus more on retaining minority administrators.
“Most of my friends are in their forties and fifties,” Jernigan said. “So that should tell you what Kenyon is like in terms of young people of color.”
Kennerly wrote while he is not as concerned about the issue as Jernigan is, he understands the concerns Jernigan has. He also wrote he is not aware of a significant retention issue for employees from minority backgrounds.
“It’s not the College’s fault; it’s the location of the College,” Camisha James ’18 said. “It’s very inconvenient, especially for young faculty of color.”
Decatur acknowledged the College faces difficulties retaining minority administrators, particularly those who identify as people of color.
“Being diverse on a predominately white campus and in a rural atmosphere can pose its challenges,” Jillian Watts, fellow assistant director at ODEI, said. “I feel like if you’re able to develop a community, then it could make it easier.”
A hallmark of Jernigan’s approach was her strong connection with students. Jernigan was a primary advisor for the Kenyon Educational Enrichment Program (KEEP), a summer program for students of color and first-generation college students, as well as Recognizing Each Other’s Ability to Conquer the Hill (REACH), a peer mentoring group.
“I’m most happy with the connections that I’ve built with the students who are involved in the programs that have been through our office,” Jernigan said. Students and staff alike expressed appreciation for her efforts.
“We will miss the energy and enthusiasm she brought to the office and the division,” Chris Kennerly, associate dean of students and director of the ODEI, wrote in an email to the Collegian.
“She’s been, clearly, very dedicated in working with a range of different student groups, but also as one of the key mentors for the KEEP students,” said President Sean Decatur, who oversaw the reorganization of Multicultural Affairs into ODEI. “I’ve been impressed to see the time that she puts into working with student groups, and actually building really close relationships with students.”
BSU president Tomas Grant ’16 lauded her Jernigan’s contributions to the BSU. “She’s been a mentor to many individuals outside of a purely advisory role,” Grant said.
While Jernigan will stay on in an unofficial capacity until graduation to offer assistance on some unfinished projects, she will leave before the June 18 start date of KEEP, which she previously directed. Kennerly, will take on the bulk of the responsibilities of the program, with aid from Ivonne García, associate provost and professor of English, and Ted Mason, associate provost for diversity, equity and inclusion and professor of English. Kennerly wrote in an email to the Collegian that ODEI’s services will not be disrupted by Jernigan’s departure.
The College posted the job’s availability online on March 23, with one new minimum requirement being “experience with providing resources and support in Spanish and/or bilingual with Spanish as a first or second language.”
Jernigan said Kenyon hopes to have her successor begin work at the College by July 1. Kennerly predicted the search would be completed by the middle of May.
Michaela Jenkins contributed reporting.