Unity College’s first-ever Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Dr. Rana Johnson, brings a lifetime of experience in and love for higher education to the new position, created to inculturate what it truly means to be a global citizen at Unity College.
The office is expected to pioneer new collaborative efforts among campus entities, while also working on Unity’s existing diversity initiatives, according to President Dr. Melik Peter Khoury. One of Johnson’s first tasks is to spend time listening to individuals in the campus community to assess the college’s current readiness for students from diverse backgrounds. He believes Johnson’s depth of experience in diversity and inclusion administration, policy, training, research, and student engagement are second-to-none, making her the perfect choice for this important new position that affects every student, faculty, and staff member at Unity College.
“There are many institutions that make the mistake that diversity and inclusion is somehow an isolated department that only works with multicultural students. That is a fatal preconception,” President Khoury said. “What Dr. Johnson brings to the table is the idea that every student at Unity College, every faculty member at Unity College, every staff member, has to be part of this programming. This office will become integral to graduating global citizens, whether you are from Aroostook County or you are from Chicago, regardless of our backgrounds.”
Johnson estimates that she knew she needed to pursue a college degree at an early age. Her mother, who completed the 10th grade, taught her to read and write at the age of 3 or 4. She said her mom is the strongest woman she’s ever known, and was “very intentional about introducing me to education, and encouraging me to acquire as much education as possible.”
The written worlds of poetry and literature were also some of Johnson’s earliest teachers. From a very early age, she never stopped reading, and still tries to find time to read as much as possible when she is not working. One of her favorite adult authors has been Maya Angelou.
While a few of Johnson’s siblings had the opportunity to attend college, she was the first in her family to complete a postsecondary degree, securing a bachelor’s at Spalding University in her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. While she’s had mentors over the years, Johnson said it was really her family who supported her through it all: her accomplishments were their accomplishments. She now has nieces and nephews who have enrolled in postsecondary education — two nieces have earned bachelor degrees, one has earned a master’s degree, and another is currently completing her master’s at Pennsylvania State University.
“It only takes one person to step outside of the circle to change their family circumstances by furthering their education. It’s important to reach back and offer direction, encouragement and support to family members, as well as members in our local communities,” Johnson said. “I understood that my degree was not simply for myself. I knew that I had an obligation and responsibility to be part of a bigger picture — to make higher education available for individuals that are not often invited to occupy a space at the table of opportunity.”
The pursuit of her doctorate took Johnson to the University of Kentucky, where her dissertation research focused on adaptation strategies to retain and graduate diverse students from traditionally white institutions, inspired by the campus environmental struggles of the school’s diverse doctoral students. Johnson now comes to Unity College from The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, where she has spent almost 20 years helping to guide efforts to ensure the success of students that have been historically underrepresented in undergraduate and graduate education.
“I love the United States, and higher education, because this is the only place in the world where you can grow up in an impoverished or financially challenged home but, through hard work and higher education, change your circumstances and offer hope to a whole community of individuals,” Johnson said. “I find myself in a unique position to be a voice for those that are voiceless, and to give hope and encouragement to those that don’t understand or know how to access the higher educational system. I am honored and delighted to be a part of the Unity College family and to embrace the goals and objectives of my colleagues and its student body.”