Meet Founding Dean for Inclusive Excellence Dian Squire
September 7, 2021
In August 2021, the Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing welcomed its Founding Associate Dean for Inclusive Excellence Dian Squire. A Rambler himself, Squire earned his PhD in Higher Education from Loyola in 2015, during which he led multiple initiatives to address issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Since then, he has established himself as a leader in higher education with over 28 peer-reviewed manuscripts published in top-tier journals and more than 50 curricula developed on DEI, leadership development, human development, organizational theory and change, and other topics. We sat down with Squire to learn more about him, his career, and his approach to tackling issues of diversity and racial equity on a university campus.
What drew you to a career in higher education?
My career in higher education started when I was an undergraduate student leader/employee in various campus roles. That love for working in the university and working with students launched me into getting a master's degree studying Educational Policy and Leadership Studies with a concentration in Higher Education. Essentially, I am interested in studying how universities are organized and function, leadership, access, student life, etc. I had the opportunity to work as the Assistant Director of Orientation and First Year Programs for six years where I learned more about the experiences of marginalized students and how to support student retention. That experience launched me into my PhD program in higher education, onto faculty roles, and now to an administrative appointment. What draws most people to this career is the hope that higher education can serve its purpose as a place for democratic education, social change, personal development, and radical thinking to solve the world’s problems.
In 16 years, you have made great strides to address issues of diversity and racial equity at the institutions you have served. As you reflect on all you have achieved, what is your proudest moment or the moment when you witnessed the impact of your work?
I have two. The first is when I created the country’s first First-Year Experience program for LGBTQ+ students at the University of Maryland College Park (UMCP). The program started after a year filled with high profile LGBTQ+ suicides and harassment across the country. Our community was hurting, and I hoped that this would help. Today, the program exists in a different form and is institutionalized on the campus. UMCP is now considered to be the #1 school for LGBTQ+ students. The second moment was using holistic admissions to increase the racial diversity of students in the academic program I coordinated. By understanding our students as full humans, by not judging them on standardized tests and other inequitable measures of ability and aptitude, and really digging into their philosophies of education, social justice, and leadership, we improved our structural diversity from 14 percent students of color when I arrived to 57 percent over two years.
How did growing up as the son of a hospital administrator shape your approach or understanding of health care?
My stepmom started the country’s first urban farm, Grow2Heal, attached to a hospital at Baptist Health Homestead in Homestead, Florida; there are now four such gardens with Baptist Health. The food grown, about 8,000 lbs annually, goes directly into the hospital to be integrated into meals by the chefs, and the farm acts as an educational center for the local community to learn about food, health, and farming. This program taught me a few things: 1) that health disparities are connected to issues of access to food, childcare, and education, differences in socioeconomic status, and more. Health care often calls these and other factors Social Determinants of Health. However, all these issues stem from decades of racist policy, inequitable legal structures, and disenfranchisement that impacts systemically marginalized groups like people of color, LGBTQ+ people, people with disabilities, immigrants, and others; 2) that if we listen to our communities, they will tell us what they need and how we can support them; and 3) creativity, innovation, interorganizational, and interdisciplinary work is the best way to make meaningful change in our world.
What is the most important lesson we can learn about diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education?
That is a hard question! I would say there are a few things to think about: 1) we must delve into the history of our country or local regions to fully understand our relationship to Indigenous peoples and how we can begin engaging in conversations that recognize, respect, and return land to Nations; 2) we must think of students beyond a monolithic understanding of “first-year,” “Black,” “low-income,” etc. By really asking who our students are, we get to think more critically and specifically about ways to support them; 3) we must start with us. When faced with doing social justice work, instead of freezing up and saying something like “there’s just so much to change in the world, I don’t know where to start,” look toward yourself and say, “I’ll start with me.” Alongside that is the idea that we have to be content with imperfection. Nobody will ever be a perfect person when it comes to doing social justice work and we should never believe that perfection exists. Our world is changing every day. The best thing to do is have humility, listen, ask questions, do your research, and take risks for justice.
You completed your PhD at Loyola, during which you helped create the first Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer position and pass more equitable faculty tenure and promotion standards. How do you feel about returning to Loyola and developing the School of Nursing’s vision for Inclusive Excellence in this new role? What are you most looking forward to upon returning to Loyola?
I am really excited to be back at Loyola and in a new academic field as well! When I graduated from Loyola, I did not think the administration really understood what engaging in social justice meant and was unwilling to clear the way to get real work done. Six years later, we now have created a distinct role for a Chief Diversity Officer that is not attached to another role like Human Resources, we have the Anti-Racism Initiative, the creation of the Institute for Racial Justice, and the hiring of me as the founding Associate Dean for Inclusive Excellence and the only person in my type of role (outside of Medicine and Law where these roles are required by accrediting agencies). The School of Nursing has put resources, time, and energy behind increasing the school’s diversity, inclusivity, and equity. Working with supportive leadership at your back is integral to success.
When you are not working, where will we find you? What are your favorite hobbies?
When it is warm, you will find me on my road bike riding up and down the trail on the lake. I have trained for triathlons from sprints to a half Iron Man. In Summer 2022, I will participate in my third AIDS/Lifecycle ride which is a seven-day, 545-mile charity ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles to raise awareness and funds to support local LGBTQ+ organizations. Donations are now being accepted! Additionally, one of my favorite parts of Chicago is the great food, from the highest end restaurants to the amazing local neighborhood joints. I love trying new foods with people who also enjoy eating. So, you may find me at a restaurant, too.