The Gustavian Weekly

Diversity center introduces new members: Janet Jennings and Tom Flunker look to provide leadership, help and counseling to students from all walks of life

By Laura Stickney - Staff Writer | September 15, 2017 | News

Tom Flunker and Janet Jennings are both prominent and helpful figures in the Diversity Center.

Tom Flunker and Janet Jennings are both prominent and helpful figures in the Diversity Center.

This year, Gustavus is proud to welcome Janet Jennings as the new Assistant Director of the Diversity Center.This year, Gustavus is proud to welcome Janet Jennings as the new Assistant Director of the Diversity Center.

Jennings, a Gustavus alumnus who graduated just last year and a long-time supporter of campus diversity, has returned to Gustavus as part of what she believes is one of the most important resources on campus.

“We like to say it’s a safe space but it’s also a brave space,” Jennings said, “and it’s a place where, like, no matter how much you think you’re diverse or whatever, like, ‘all’ really does mean ‘all’ and no matter how much time you spend in here, you always, like, learn and grow, and there’s always something new to learn. I think our school values education and excellence, and I think that can come from here, with all the support that’s in here.”

The Diversity Center, according to its mission statement on the Gustavus website, works to “provide leadership for positive and equitable change that creates a welcoming and supportive environment for persons historically under-served in American colleges and universities.”

This goal is achieved by supporting students of various backgrounds, offering mentoring services and academic advising to students and student employees, and hosting events that bring light to diversity and the issues related to it.

The Center’s “all means all” message is more important than ever right now, says Director of the Diversity Center Thomas Flunker.

“We live in a world in which, you know, you have people with different mindsets, but, you know, we have people coming from all walks of life as well, so when you have different thought processes and different mindsets, going and navigating throughout the day, trying to get everybody to work together in harmony is not the easiest thing to do.” Flunker explained. “So we’re a resource for the campus and enabling not only people who come from different identities to be able to find affinity with each other, but also to be able to work together to come to a consensus or a common goal in terms of whatever their mission is.”

As the Assistant Director of this resource, Jennings oversees student employees and acts as an advisor for several student organizations, such as the Diversity Leadership Council. On top of this, Jennings performs administrative duties and acts as a peer counselor for students.

“Pretty much, if I wasn’t in class, I was in here. I would just hang out, have lunch in here, I went to the tutors.” – Janet Jennings

Being so heavily involved in the Diversity Center is nothing new to Jennings, who spent much of her time there as a student.

“Pretty much, if I wasn’t in class, I was in here,” Jennings said. “I would just hang out, have lunch in here, I went to the tutors.”

Jennings also acted as a peer counselor for the Diversity Center from her sophomore to senior years, participating in sessions geared towards educating First-Term Seminar classes about diversity.

She further advocated for the Center’s values by taking on a leadership role in President’s Council for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, which aims to ensure that diversity continues to thrive on campus.

Jennings’ experience and involvement with the program, along with the fact that she was recently a student herself, make her particularly well-suited for her role as Assistant Director.

“Janet and I have been around in a time period at Gustavus when there was a lot of turnover in the Diversity Center, with different people coming in as Director and Assistant Director,” classmate and Gustavus alumnus Herchran Singh said.

“I think she’ll provide stability in this office, and she understands what students need, especially students from overtly-marginalized backgrounds that don’t necessarily get support on campus from other venues, or not the right kind of support from other venues.”

Flunker expressed similar thoughts about Jennings, stressing the passion she displays for the Center’s cause.“

Janet comes with a plethora of experiences, you know, even before she was a student here at Gustavus, and she was working within communities to be able to provide opportunities for diversity, equity, and inclusion back at home.” Flunker said. “During her time here on campus she was very involved, very connected with those values and that mission. This is a big part of who she is, she has a passion for the work, and so not only her experiences but her passion put together — it just made her the right fit for the campus.”

Her passion for the Center and for supporting students were key factors in Jennings’ decision to return to life on the Hill.“

Since this is pretty much like a second home to me, I knew that it was important that students had, like, a really firm support system,” Jennings said. “And I’m glad I got to meet all of the people that I did, like the Assistant Director and the Director here, but I saw so many people coming in and out, and I knew that I wanted to dedicate some time here, so yeah — there was like a consistent force here.”

As the year continues, Gustavus can expect great things from Jennings, whose positive attitude and kindness embody the Diversity Center’s values.

“Something that I really admire about Janet is her relationality and how hard she works to include people and work with them.” Singh said. “I think that’s what is really important for this job, and I think by implementing that, she’ll have an advantage in supporting students and working with the system itself to help support them in the future.”

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