Jennifer McCary wins Top Diversity Officer Award
McCary, Chief Diversity and Belonging Officer at BGSU, to be honored at Ohio Diversity & Leadership Conference
By: Nick Piotrowicz
The National Diversity Council has named Jennifer McCary, Bowling Green State University Chief Diversity and Belonging Officer, as a Top Diversity Officer for 2021.
The NDC, a U.S. nonprofit that advocates for diversity and inclusion, bestows the honor to recognize individuals who have contributed to their organizations with exemplary work in the field.
McCary will receive the Top Diversity Officer award as part of the Ohio Diversity & Leadership Conference, which is scheduled to be held remotely Dec. 1-2.
McCary ’05, ’08 returned to BGSU in 2017 as the assistant vice president for student affairs/Title IX officer, and in 2019, the University chose her to lead the newly created Division of Diversity and Belonging.
Her standout work at BGSU drew the recognition, though McCary checked her email inbox earlier this year and said she couldn’t believe what she was reading.
“It was a complete surprise,” she said. “I got the email from the founder of the National Diversity Council in early September, and I remember thinking it was a joke. I thought it was spam.”
After communicating with Dennis Kennedy, the NDC founder, McCary realized that her recognition was very real, and also a product of aligning her passion with her alma mater. McCary said she sees her role at BGSU as being proactive in making sure everyone feels like they have a place to be their true selves.
“I always say diversity is a fact — it’s something that exists everywhere,” McCary said. “My role is more about the inclusion and belonging piece, so I’m trying to make sure we take actions as an institution to be sure people don’t have barriers to reach their potential here at the University and that we are creating an environment where people belong.
“Belonging is allowing people to be their authentic selves, and for who they are to be affirmed. For me, that’s a really important part of my work.”
One of McCary’s major goals in her current position is to close the graduation gap by making sure students of all backgrounds have support inside and outside of the classroom on the pathway to graduation. Rather than looking at graduation rates every three or four years, McCary said her office tracks metrics regularly to observe students’ progress toward graduation.
Academics are tied to belonging on campus, McCary said, because students who feel supported tend to stay in school and perform better in their classes.
“As a University, we’re trying to close those opportunity gaps so at the end of the day, every single one of our students are experiencing faculty, staff and even peers who are helping them inside and outside of the classroom,” McCary said. “When that happens, we retain students at higher rates, and when we retain them, we’re also helping them get toward that goal of graduation.”
McCary said much of her focus is on learning outside of the classroom with initiatives such as the Beyond the Dream Series of speakers to highlight different cultures, and The Big Gay Welcome, a celebration of the LGBTQ+ community as part of Welcome Week.
“Everything we do is to help others recognize that our society is a multicultural one,” she said. “We want to be sure that, when people are on campus, they get to experience and explore things that may be different from their own backgrounds, and learn to embrace and celebrate that each of us has something unique and necessary to offer for our society to thrive.”