Dr. Stephanie Akunvabey wants a ‘360 view of what’s happening at RWU’


Rachel Dvareckas/The Hawks' Herald

Dr. Stephanie Akunvabey spoke about a range of topics at the Oct. 4 Student Senate meeting.

Dr. Stephanie Akunvabey began her role as Vice President for Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer (VPEI-CDO) on July 6. A little over a month into her first fall semester on campus, she is already making strides to create a sense of belonging for all students on campus.

Akunvabey described her transition to Roger Williams University as “vibrant,” and explained that an increase in campus events has allowed her to form more personal connections with students.

Akunvabey commented on RWU’s Vision statement on what the world needs now.

“Being the university that the world needs now in many ways is about understanding our own individual impact in terms of how we improve the spaces that we show up in, and then how we do that collectively as a university and a community of folks that work collectively in that same direction.”

She explained that there has been “lots of conversation about sustainability, thinking about access, wanting to make sure that students who come to Roger Williams have a deep sense of belonging and also understand the impact they have as individuals to go out into the world and to make a difference, and to be responsible citizens and leave the world better than we found it.”

As a member of the President’s Cabinet, Akunvabey is tasked with implementing the RWU Equity Action Plan. She is now working to put into effect the ideas laid out in the plan.

“The Equity Action Plan was a great blueprint for me to come into, being a new CDO, knowing that that document had already been crafted with the voices and perspectives of so many different community members,” Akunvabey said.

She explained that the plan looks into the student experience, as well as the faculty and staff experience, along with curricular components.

As far as progress, Akunvabey said that she is looking to align the Equity Action Plan with the Strategic Action Plan of the campus “so that all these different goals can move forward in tandem.”

In terms of the university’s most pressing issues regarding diversity, equity and inclusion, Akunvabey explained how she has heard different concerns from students compared to faculty and staff.

“I think the work that needs to happen right now is, again, how do we kind of find the common denominator behind all of those different things and work as a community to advance it?”

One common denominator she has found is a desire for a sense of belonging.

“The sense of belonging is something that does cut across, I think, for faculty, staff and students. It’s how do we make RWU a place where people feel like they come, their voices are heard and authentically respected?”

Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples’ Day is approaching next week, Akunvabey discussed the holiday and the importance of having a deeper understanding and respect of Indigenous communities.

“I think that’s not all anchored in just one day. It’s an important part, but it’s also understanding larger narratives and thinking about where that ties in at all times of the year as well.”

Akunvabey introduced her Breathe and BeLong initiative to RWU last week in order to provide a space for students to work through social injustice in the surrounding community.

“The Breathe and BeLong Space is really designed to say ‘okay, how do we take a moment to breathe and think through how these things are impacting us, and then decide on an intentional path of action,’” she said.

One experience that Akunvabey will bring forward from her time at other institutions is First Generation Day.

“RWU’s celebration will be on Nov. 4. It’s our first time celebrating in this sort of national movement to highlight the experiences of first-generation students.”

Dr. Akunvabey is especially excited about celebrating because she is a first-generation college student herself.

“I understand how earning a college credential opens up so many other doors in terms of what people can pursue for themselves.”

Akunvabey wants to encourage all students to participate.

“Even if they’re not a first-generation student, you can be a first-generation supporter.”