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Nellie Craig Scholars: Miami’s new peer-led DEI educational program

Nellie Craig Walker (center), Miami University's first Black graduate, is the namesake of a new peer-led DEI initiative at the university.
Nellie Craig Walker (center), Miami University's first Black graduate, is the namesake of a new peer-led DEI initiative at the university.

Miami University is implementing a new peer-led diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) educational program called Nellie Craig Scholars. The program, projected to start in spring 2023, is named after Nellie Craig Walker, the first black graduate of Miami in 1905. 

Dasha Wood, director of the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion and creator of the organization, highlighted the benefits of student-focused leadership and explained that its strategy will be similar to that of Miami’s HAWKS Peer Health Educators.

“We believe that in order to get the information out in a way that students will receive it, it has to come from someone they can relate to,” Wood said.

HAWKS offers by-request informational seminars on personal responsibility to residence halls and other student institutions. Wood clarified that Nellie Craig Scholars will serve this model a different purpose.

“It is so important to understand the diverse cultures that exist around you and learn how to be most inclusive to identities you do not hold,” Wood said. “A large part of DEI is unlearning a lot of what was taught growing up.”

The idea was first pitched in spring 2021 to a one-time funding committee but was rejected because its budget wouldn’t be self-sufficient after its first year. Eventually a division of campus leadership signed on, but the program remains in its planning phase until the university concludes its nationwide search for a qualified supervisor.

Jayne Brownell, vice president for Student Life, said the launch of Nellie Craig Scholars will be treated as a pilot.

“We want to make sure that people are trained meticulously, and that they’re quality programs that aren’t going to do any harm,” Brownell said. “We won’t hire all the students at the same time because we want first-years through seniors for continuity over the years.”

Once there’s someone to write the modules and facilitate them to peer leaders, their order of approach will be determined by students. The program’s long-term goal is for students to want to ask questions and confide in an increasingly well-rounded campus community.

Brownell said the university hopes to prepare students for the world post-graduation, making them globally competent and considerate of all there is to learn. No matter how a student’s thinking aligns, the program will be non-judgmental and meet them where they are upon admission.

Leslie Haxby McNeill, assistant director of the Office of Student Wellness and advisor to HAWKS Peer Health Educators, believes DEI belongs to everyone.

“Diversity intersects with everything we do,” she said. “More importantly, personal bias concerns us, because it never stands alone.”

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McNeill spelled out why Nellie Craig Scholars has a greater potential for lasting success in comparison to Miami’s past DEI initiatives.

“This new [program] has institutional support,” she said. “It is highly specialized; it requires a certain type of student in terms of critical thinking and skill-level to be able to engage in conversation and be effective in their role.”

Students can express interest in this paid opportunity by visiting the formstack.