Jevon Willis has been named director of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion at Hope College, selected following a national search for the position that he has held on an interim basis for the past year.
Willis joined the Hope staff as CDI’s assistant director in 2018 having had several years’ experience teaching and developing programs and events in higher education and with non-profit organizations. He had been interim director since the fall of 2020.
“Our search drew excellent applicants from across the country, and confirmed that we already had the best candidate on our staff,” said Dr. Sonja Trent-Brown, who is vice president for culture and excellence and a member of the psychology faculty.
“Jevon came to Hope three years ago with outstanding experience as an educator and administrator and a heart for students, and in his time with us has provided exceptional, caring leadership in helping the college to live more fully into its vision of being a place in which every member of the community is — and feels — equally valued and respected,” she said. “We’re thrilled to have him continue in a role in which he has already served so well.”
Willis succeeds Vanessa Greene, who left the college in November 2020 to become chief executive officer of the Grand Rapids African American Health Institute (GRAAHI) after serving as CDI’s director, and later also as an associate dean, since 2003. He cited Greene and retired associate provost and dean Alfredo Gonzales, who founded the program in the mid-1980s and guided its work for many years, as particular inspirations as he looks to his continued time at Hope.
“What most excites me about this role is the opportunity to continue and expand off of the labor of love left by Dean Alfredo Gonzalez and Vanessa Greene,” Willis said. “The opportunity for Hope College to live more fully into a beloved community, in a way that acknowledges the lived experiences and expressions of all of Hope’s community members in a more equitable and just way.”
CDI supports the college’s ongoing and increased emphasis on fostering racial and cultural understanding and equity through campus- and community-wide programming and outreach, and through working with student organizations and individual students. The center’s activities include coordinating multiple annual lecture series and other events throughout the year, from the Hispanic Heritage Month Lecture in September to the Women of Color and Senior Recognition banquet each spring; organizing workshops for students, faculty and staff; and serving as a liaison with other area organizations like the Grand Rapids African American Health Institute and the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance. The center also works closely with the college’s seven multicultural student organizations (MSOs) in developing programming and providing a support network for Hope’s students of color.
The center is located in the college’s landmark Keppel House, which includes programmatic and gathering space, and office space for the staff as well as the MSOs. The staff consists of a director, assistant director and program coordinator/office manager. The student organizations for whom the house is home base are the Black Student Union, Asian Student Union, Latino Student Organization, Lambda Delta Pi Leadership Community, Men’s Enrichment Network and Pan African Student Association.
During the seven years prior to coming to Hope, Willis taught social work or sociology at Calvin University, Davenport University and Grand Rapids Community College. His work experience through the years has also included serving as associate director and program director with the Grand Rapids Initiative for Leaders for six years; as teen ministry director with The Other Way Ministries in Grand Rapids for two years; and as a substance use disorder therapist with Wedgwood Christian Services for two years.
He has made multiple presentations at regional and national professional conferences on topics including social justice and racial identity. Active in the community throughout his career, since coming to Hope he has served as a facilitator volunteer with Congregations Organizing for Racial Reconciliation (CORR), as an I AM community volunteer, and on the City of Holland’s Juneteenth Celebration Committee.
He graduated from Ferris State University with a Bachelor of Social Work degree in 2001, and from Western Michigan University with a Master of Social Work degree in 2009.