Creighton grows as diversity and inclusion leader

Friday, March 12, 2021 - 3:00pm

Associate Professor Trina Creighton has always been passionate about diversity and inclusion. But in the past few years, she has emerged as a leader on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus and in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications, pushing diversity and inclusion efforts forward and ensuring that everyone has a voice.

"Trina has grown into an important leader in the college’s diversity and inclusion efforts,” said Shari Veil, dean of the College of Journalism and Mass Communications. “Her work has helped to improve our collective understanding and our college’s culture.”

In March of 2021, Creighton completed the Cornell University certificate program for diversity and inclusion training. The certificate expands the skills and tools Creighton has at her disposal to advance programs and initiatives that seek to make the college more inclusive.

Creighton’s diversity and inclusion journey on campus started in the fall of 2018 when she took over an existing course offered by the College of Journalism and Mass Communications, “Social Justice, Human Rights and the Media.” At the time, the class focused on human trafficking, an important but narrow issue. Creighton wanted to broaden the course to examine the advocates for equality who have fought for social justice causes throughout history and those currently engaged in meaningful fights against systemic racism and human rights violations.

Since Creighton took over, the class has grown and now enrolls more than 500 students a year from across the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus.

In 2018, Creighton also expanded her work on campus. She was selected to serve on the university’s N 150 subcommittee for diversity and inclusion. The N 150 commission was charged with charting Nebraska's future, revising the university's mission and value statements, and developing strategic goals that would illuminate the university's path toward distinction for the next 25 years. Over the next year, the committee worked to ensure that diversity and inclusion wasn’t just one initiative in the university's plan but was woven throughout every idea and initiative proposed.

She also joined the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee, where she works with Marko Barker, vice chancellor of Diversity and Inclusion, and Nkenge Friday, assistant vice chancellor for Strategic Initiatives, to help improve the inclusivity of the campus. Her connection to the committee also reinforced her own commitment to these efforts. The committee brought Bernice A. King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., to campus in January 2021.

“I just remember every time Bernice would talk about Dr. King and say ‘daddy this’ and ‘daddy that’ it would hit me that I’m sitting here talking to Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter,” Creighton said. “These are the kinds of experiences that influence me to keep talking about social injustice.”

At the same time, Creighton brought her passion closer to home and took over as chair of the College of Journalism and Mass Communication’s diversity and inclusion committee. The committee makes recommendations for ensuring diverse representation in the college’s faculty, staff and students, developing a culture of inclusion in the college and ensuring diversity and inclusion issues are infused throughout the curriculum.

In  Creighton’s first year as chair, the committee partnered with Jacht, the college’s student-run advertising agency and the Public Relations Student Society of America Nebraska Chapter to develop a diversity and inclusion toolkit. The toolkit is intended to assist the University of Nebraska-Lincoln students, staff and faculty in forming an environment that is welcoming and inclusive for all. It includes guides on campus databases, helpful resources, local dining options and more.

“Today’s generation of students represent the most racially and ethnically diverse population than any previous generation, and our students play an integral part in raising awareness of inclusive excellence across campus,” said Jemalyn Griffin, assistant professor of practice and director of the Jacht Ad Lab.  “The Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit is a resource that Jacht and PRSSA wanted to develop in order to provide tools, tips and resources for CoJMC faculty, staff and students. This is just one small action we wanted to take to do our part amid a global movement surrounding race.”

The murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020 had a tremendous impact on Creighton. She realized that she was holding back in her advocacy for diversity and inclusion. Growing up, she had always been taught that it was not her place to talk about race with white people. After watching the murder and the emerging Black Lives Matter movement, she knew she could no longer “stay in her place.”

Creighton’s work up to this point had been with students and the broader university community. She had never pushed her colleagues, other faculty and staff in her own college, to better their knowledge and understanding. In the summer of 2020, Creighton reached out to Interim Dean Amy Struthers and Incoming Dean Shari Veil with a proposal to change that.

Creighton proposed forming a faculty and staff book club. Together, the group would read important works surrounding race and racism issues and then meet for discussions facilitated by Creighton. The college’s administration wholeheartedly supported the idea, and the first book, “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism,” by Robin DiAngelo, was chosen.

The first meeting began awkwardly. Faculty and staff were hesitant to speak for fear of saying the wrong thing. But Creighton’s calm confirmation that topics of race are difficult and her reassurance that the meetings were a safe place led to lively and passionate discussions.

The club meets every five to six weeks and has also now read and discussed “How to Be an Antiracist,” by Ibram X. Kendi, and “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” by Isabel Wilkerson.

Creighton also wanted to make diversity and inclusion resources more visible and available for the college’s faculty and staff. She partnered with the college’s communications team to develop and diversity and inclusion webpage that provides connections to campus resources and support for faculty, staff and students and educational resources that her colleagues can use to improve the diversity and inclusion of their courses.

After completing her Cornell certificate on diversity and inclusion in March, Creighton has set her sights on new goals for the college. During the program, she expanded her knowledge of equity in the workplace and learned it goes further than “being happy” at work. It’s about building a place where employees can bring their authentic selves to work.

“If there’s equity, everyone’s going to benefit, not just someone who looks like me,” Creighton said. “When company policies are fair and equitable, there’s a very apparent sense of belonging for everyone.”

Creighton hopes to use the knowledge she has gained to create greater equity in the college.

She also wants to ensure that future faculty and staff in the college and university come from a diverse array of backgrounds. Working with the college’s diversity and inclusion committee, she is developing a Promising Professors program that will identify underrepresented individuals with the potential to be future faculty and staff and then provide mentoring and support as they transition into academia.

“Trina’s an incredible role model and catalyst for change,” Veil said. “Her leadership is creating a more inclusive campus for us all.”

Trina Creighton
Trina Creighton