This spring, Dr. James Joseph “Joey” Wilkerson joined IU Southeast as the new Director of Staff Equity and Diversity and Title IX Deputy, succeeding Dr. Darlene Posey Young. His arrival coincided with the closure of campus due to Covid-19, so he did not enjoy the full campus welcome. But the IU Southeast community soon came to know him through a virtual town hall held on June 4, during which students, faculty, staff and administrators discussed the state of equity and diversity on campus, offered personal experiences and heartfelt insights, and shared resources for becoming more informed and engaged. Following this event, Dr. Wilkerson spoke with Academic Information Officer Steven Krolak.
What should students know about your background?
I grew up in New Albany. I have my bachelors degree in English and my Juris Doctorate from the University of Louisville. I also hold a masters in communication from Bellarmine University. I have a wonderful daughter and a soon to be fiancé. My passion is teaching consent, sexual assault prevention and social sexual responsibility to students.
How would you describe your core values?
There’s this movie called The 36th Chamber of Shaolin. In it, a young man escapes his oppressive village to go train in Kung Fu with the Shaolin Monks. At the school, there are 35 lessons or, chambers, that one has to master. The young man masters all 35 of them in record time and as a reward, is told he can be the teacher in any 35 chambers he chooses. The young man, however, chooses to create a 36th chamber, which will see him taking all of his acquired knowledge and teaching it to the world. I tell this story because helping people through mentorship and education is my largest core value. I have been blessed to have learned so much in my life, and have had great mentors to teach me. So it is my calling to take the knowledge I have learned and to spread it.
How did you begin to see the law as a means to advance social justice?
At the end of my first semester of law school, I did a winter internship with the Department of Public Advocacy that showed me how valuable our work can be for the public. I firmly believe that everyone should have equal access to the law, regardless their socioeconomic status. I saw that I was able to be an instrument of that access through public service work. Not too long after that, I created my own nonprofit that addressed collegiate sexual assault with fraternity students and dove into social change head first.
What is your vision for the Office of Equity and Diversity at IU Southeast?
In my four years of doing guest lectures on collegiate sexual assault prevention, not once have I ever come across a student that knew who their campuses Title IX coordinator was. A majority of the students don’t even know what Title IX is. So for the Title IX side of my office, I plan on being visible. When the campus sees me walking down the hall, I want them to automatically think “That’s the Title IX guy!” And I want them to be comfortable coming to me with reports. In addition to that, my office needs to be a beacon of education when it comes to campus sexual assault prevention. Education is our best weapon to fight back, and I would love to be at the helm of a History of Sexual Assault course at the university in the next five years. In terms of diversity, I want IU Southeast to be known as a university that “does diversity RIGHT.” I believe that starts at the top. We must see a diverse staff and faculty. We must create and maintain an environment that values diversity and deals in respect. That environment will attract a diverse student body. I want “I feel welcome, valued and supported” to be a phrase that students say when they discuss IU Southeast as a college they wish to attend.
How can conversations around Title IX issues be sustained over time?
We need students to own the conversation. Me showing up and speaking is a start. But students must be able to continue the conversation once I leave. If that conversation continues, that means the culture is starting to change. And that’s what we want.
What are some of the key steps needed to ensure that the conversation becomes part of the operating culture of the institution?
We have to put a focus on our men. Women have been talking about sexual assault for generations. But we need men to step up to the front line to be advocates. And to get that, we have to know how to approach them. I’ve always made it a point to speak to students in their own language and approach them as potential advocates instead of wagging my finger at them. We have to give men ownership in the fight.
How did the virtual town hall come about, and what did you learn from it?
I was listening to the radio before bed, when Marvin Gaye’s song, “What’s Going On,” came on. As that song was inspired by act of police brutality, I just thought it was so relatable to what is happening right now. Normally, the town hall would have been something that happened live on campus. But the closure due to Covid 19 made that impossible. So I reached out to Dean of Student Life Seuth Chaleunphonh, who helped get the word out. Four days later, we had over 80 members of the campus community connecting, communicating and sharing. I learned that we have a university full of motivated and inspired people with some great ideas when it comes to diversity and equality. I am excited to help champion some of those ideas.
How would you describe this moment, in terms of equity and diversity?
It is one of two things. It could be a transformative morning where the world finally wakes up and realizes the things black people have been saying about racism and inequality in this country. Or it could be something we move on from when the next big scandal hits in a few weeks. I certainly hope it’s the former, because if it is, then perhaps true and lasting change has arrived.