Stephanie Washington

Five Questions with Stephanie Washington – Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

William Woods welcomed a new director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to campus in October, when Stephanie Washington joined The Woods after a long, successful career with the State of Missouri. She recently sat down to answer Five Questions for The Woods Today, as told to John Fougere:

1.) Where are you from, and what was your background before coming to William Woods?

I am originally from Jefferson City, Missouri. I earned my Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from Lincoln University, and my Master of Public Health from the University of Missouri – Columbia.  Since 2003, I have served as a public health practitioner, working in various roles within the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.  I began my career with the Center for Emergency Response and Terrorism as a Duty Officer.  There, my responsibilities included report taking for the Elderly Abuse and Neglect Hotline, and engaging in readiness/preparedness activities for Missouri in the event of a natural disaster or terrorist incident.  Do you recall the 2007 ice storm that crippled the southwest portion of the state for weeks?  I assisted with routing resources to the area, as Springfield was without power for 14 days. 

Later in 2007, I earned the role of the Health Program Representative/Youth Health Educator within the Bureau of HIV, STD and Hepatitis.  Fun times!  In 2016, I was asked to serve as the Statewide HIV Planner and Evaluator for the bureau where my focus entailed the oversight of a statewide Comprehensive Prevention Planning Group, with an end goal of getting to zero new HIV infections.  It had been a long run, and I couldn’t be more excited about my seamless transition to work in diversity, equity and inclusion…an ever-present component in public health. 

2.) What about William Woods prompted you to pursue your current position here?

Though my entire career, pre-Woods, had been with the state of Missouri, I had always been interested in working for either an academic institution or a hospital system.  As I began seeking a new career path, it became clear that higher education should be my new home.  I spent a significant portion of time during my role as a Youth Health Educator working with young people, and I realized that era was the most fun and rewarding time of my professional journey.  My previous role as a Planner and Evaluator was a complete departure from having the opportunity to work hands-on within the state community.  It was time for me to return to what I love and what I felt loves me.  Not long after that, my old work bestie sent me WWU’s position announcement for the Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.  I began researching the institution and fell in love with things like the small class sizes and the student to teacher ratio, the Equestrian program (horses are my spirit animal and I’ve absolutely adored them since I was a kid), William Woods beautiful, cozy campus, and the institutions desire to grow with the times and eagerness to make this community one that reflects all walks of life.  Not to mention the ASL program, all of the on-line programs that are offered and WWU’s focus and emphasis on compassion and creativity.  I mean where else in mid-MO can you find all of these things?  It made my decision to leave what I’ve known for the past 18 years a simple and seamless one.  Honestly, these were all the things that I wanted for myself, but none of that mattered.  God wanted this for me, and that is all that mattered. 

3.) How did you become involved in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion work in your career?

D.E.I. has always been a component of my work since 2007.  I’ve always served under-represented groups, including individuals who identify as LGBTQ+, people of color and those who are disenfranchised.  During my time working in HIV, our D.E.I. efforts focused on social determinants of health, or all of the factors that place barriers between the communities I served and the resources they need to lead healthy lives.  Then, it looked like creating access to medical services, health literacy and meeting folks where they are.  Now my work emphasizes creating a campus culture where all people and voices and not only welcomed and appreciated, but respected and desired. 

4.) What are some of your initial, significant D.E.I. Initiatives and goals at The Woods?

I feel like the expected response to this question would be to outline a programmatic series of events that lends itself to DEI educational opportunities for students and staff, and guiding this institution to becoming a certified diversity professional school.  And all of that is in the works.  But honestly, I feel that my most significant D.E.I. goal, as a new hire to William Woods, is to establish a rapport with the WWU community.  I want students to see me and say “hey, that’s the girl with the pink and purple furry ice cream sneakers…she looks cool and I feel comfortable approaching her.”  My goal is to lay a solid foundation, and that foundation is built on trust.  Without trust, we’re in the fast lane to nowhere.  So my initial, significant D.E.I. initiative is to provide a safe space for all students to come and feel welcome, seen and heard.  That is when upward momentum will begin, and students, as well as staff feel comfortable to share what they want to see. 

5.) You have a whole day free to do some things that you enjoy. How would you fill up such a day?

I love this question, and my answer is three-fold!  The first part of the day would be spent with family and friends.  We would all do something fun and active like going bowling, where everyone can participate, have a great time, joke, laugh and take photos.  It’s the fellowship for me!  The late morning outing would be followed by a mid-afternoon rodízio-style dinner dining experience at my favorite Brazilian eatery, Fogo De Chao!  Prepared meats, served on large skewers…all you can eat exotic foods…linen table clothes and an entire staff of waiters and waitresses serving you…OH MY!  LOL!  It’s all about creating an experience. I’d close out my day with some much needed down time to myself at home.  Fire place, candles, HBO and the ‘That’s How I Roll’ signature creation ice cream blend from Cold Stone Creamery…cake batter ice cream with yellow cake pieces, sprinkled cinnamon and chopped pecans.  It’s a party in your mouth!  Call me old but this girl has to recharge her battery and practice her mindfulness, and that is what I do just about every night (minus the ice cream) for my own mental well-being.  Spending time alone is just as imperative as spending time with loved ones in my book.  My cup is full.  My cup runneth over.  Now it is time to refill my cup with some R&R.  And I’ll do it all over again tomorrow.

Stephanie Washington