Founder of DEI office leaves after 8 years


Courtesy of Tamara Boston

Vernese Edghill-Walden founded the office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Edghill-Walden will no longer be working at NIU following Spring 2023.

By Caleb Johnson, News Reporter

DeKALB – The time for change is in the air as we move toward a new tomorrow. Vernese Edghill-Walden, who served as NIU’s first vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer, announced her departure on Feb. 15 after nearly 8 years of service.

Edghill-Walden was brought in at the end of 2015 to focus on the college’s mission of diversity and inclusion as the senior associate vice president and chief diversity officer.

In 2020, she was given her current title of vice president of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. This title was conferred to Edghill-Walden in part for her creating the DEI office.

Edghill-Walden helped create this office by working in collaboration with the various cultural offices, such as the Office of Undocumented Student Support, the cultural resource centers and the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center. In addition, Edghill-Walden also contributed to the DEI’s creation by combining different departmental priorities, including diversity and social justice initiatives.

Looking back, Edghill-Walden said her time at NIU has been well-used.

“I’ve established some really strong relationships that will carry me, that I’ll take with me,” Edghill-Walden said.

Overall, Edghill-Walden said she is proud of the work she’s done and excited for what lies ahead.

“When you come to an institution, … your goal should always be to leave it better,” Edghill-Walden said.

Kianna Graves, a senior psychology major, expressed she was both happy and sad at the announcement.

“Although it is definitely disappointing to lose a leader like her (Edghill-Walden) on this campus, I hope she will be happy in her next endeavor,” Graves said. “She has been a great mentor, and she deserves all of the opportunities and blessings coming her way.”

According to Edghill-Walden, the president has formed a committee to look for her replacement, with Sean Frazier, vice president and director of Athletics and Recreation,  and Clint-Michael Reneau, vice president for Student Affairs, both co-chairing the committee. Edghill-Walden said she is confident that a replacement will be found before the start of Fall 2023.

Edghill-Walden said she’ll be starting her new position at Bucknell University on July 31. She said that although she’ll miss NIU, she is grateful to be closer to family.

Looking toward the future, Edghill-Walden said she believes the university should continue to work on its diversity priorities as well as hiring practices.

Edghill-Walden mentioned the need for a shared equity leadership model to bring more people into the DEI.

Edghill-Walden will return to her alma mater, Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, to take the role of chief diversity officer. She will continue her role at NIU until July 7.

“Vernese’s collegiality and passion will certainly be missed, but the work she championed won’t disappear. The seeds planted and nurtured by our community have taken root and will continue to grow,” said NIU President Lisa Freeman.