An 'Engineer of New Ideas' Leads Diversity Efforts at Marquette University

By Joe DiGiovanni, Senior Communication Specialist, Marquette University

Dr. William WelBurn (Photo by Marquette University)


Dr. William WelBurn (Photo by Marquette University)

Jazz encompasses a wide range of music, from ragtime to 1970s jazz-rock fusion. There’s bebop, swing, Latin and cool. Different styles of beautiful music, all covered under the ample umbrella known as jazz.

It’s one of Dr. William Welburn’s passions. He listens to all of it.

“Living and breathing jazz is something I love,” Welburn says. “I’ve never been a musician, but I follow it and love it and can’t resist a good bin of records to look through.”

Welburn knows all about varieties in jazz, but he also knows about differences in people. He is the executive director of Marquette University’s Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, and understands that — just like jazz — there are many differences in the students, staff and faculty on campus. He respects that each individual is unique and — like Louis Armstrong or Billie Holiday — can create beautiful music in his or her own way.

Welburn is responsible for developing and implementing strategies to foster diversity and inclusion. He assists Marquette's Provost, Dr. Daniel Myers, in creating strategic initiatives for diversifying faculty and academic administrative positions.

“We have to see ourselves as living up to the mission of our institution and our creative environment,” Welburn says. “It’s not just that everyone is welcomed, but everyone must be respected and valued. We embrace each other. That’s how we ensure a really good quality educational experience.”

It’s important for students to learn about changes in society for many reasons, including social mobility. Marquette is embracing these demographic changes.

“The companies our students are going to work with are likely transnational,” Welburn says. “It is likely you are going to sit in a room and virtually chat with people at your company who are located in China or Brazil or India or sub-Saharan Africa. That’s the way work is going, so having a cross-cultural awareness is really very important for all of our students as they move into the working world or consider the service they might engage in."

‘An Incurable Crate Digger’

Welburn came to Marquette in 2009 from the University of Illinois, where he was the associate dean for the graduate college. He also taught for three years at the University of Arizona and was an assistant dean in the graduate college at the University of Iowa. He worked on diversity issues at Iowa and Illinois, and received two teaching awards at Arizona primarily for his work with leading a program to teach diverse students.

Welburn sees opportunities working at an institution like Marquette. “One of the advantages we have is being a Catholic, Jesuit university,” he says. “Human dignity is fundamental to our mission. We have that idea of going out into the world and working in ways to improve things.”

Welburn taught an honors freshman seminar this fall titled Jazz in American Culture that studied autobiographies of three jazz greats: Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday and Randy Weston. A close reading of the autobiographies can help students learn lessons about diversity and inclusion.

“There’s the whole idea of spirituality in jazz musicians,” he says. “One doesn’t think of Billie Holiday being spiritual, but she was a Catholic. As a Catholic, with all the things she did in her life, and some of them were pretty wild and unsavory, there’s a fundamental goodness about her.”

Engineer of New Ideas

Welburn wants to bring cohesion to the diversity and inclusion efforts already on campus, and hopes to partner with Marquette community members to facilitate new initiatives as an “engineer of new ideas.”

“It might be something as simple as a lecture or a lecture series; it might be something as amazing as writing a grant proposal to start a new program or a new initiative,” he says. “That’s where I see this office as having a dual function of facilitating new ideas and bringing cohesion.”

Welburn is a member of the University Leadership Council, co-chairs the President’s Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion, and chairs the Diversity Advisory Committee. He continues to provide leadership for the Campus Climate Study Initiative, co-chairs the Committee on the Recruitment and Retention of Native American and Other Underrepresented Minority Students, and serves as an ex officio member of the University Academic Senate Committee on Equity and Diversity.

Welburn wants to promote more diversity among faculty. He would also like to expand the University's Ralph H. Metcalfe Chair Program for minority scholars, and is helping with a Latino health initiative being developed by Dr. Lucas Torres, an associate professor of psychology, and Dr. Lisa Edwards, an associate professor in counselor education and counseling psychology.

Some of Welburn’s long-term goals include enriching scholarship and learning opportunities for students, especially in areas of scholarship that have grown in recent years. He would also like to get faculty more directly involved in work in his office.

“I'm all about coming up with innovative ideas and genuine innovations,” he says. “We have great people with great ideas. They just need someone to come in and help make it happen. I’ve done that informally and I’d like to do it more systematically.”

New Initiatives at Marquette

Marquette is experiencing exciting momentum around issues of diversity and inclusion. In addition to Welburn leading the new office, a campus climate study was completed in Fall 2015 and a new LGBTQ Resource Center and Center for Gender and Sexualities Studies were developed.

More highlights:

  • Last fall, the inaugural Faculty and Staff Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion Awards were announced with winners named this spring.
  • New resident assistant and student diversity training programs were implemented.
  • Marquette joined the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity.
  • A new Committee for Recruiting and Retaining Native American Students was formed.
  • New course development grants will be offered for the Center for Gender and Sexualities Studies.
  • The Office of Institutional Diversity will launch a faculty fellows program.
  • A campus-wide forum replacing the First-year Reading Program will begin in the 2016-17 academic year.
  • An associate director position will be created for the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion. This person will be responsible for Hispanic student recruitment and community engagement.