Shippensburg University is like its own little city, said Carlesha Halkias, who accepted the position as Ship’s executive director of equity, inclusion, and Title IX this summer. “It’s very self-sustaining, with its own police department, own dining services, and more.”
Her role in her new “city” on campus has many similarities to her previous job as director of risk management and affirmative action for the City of Harrisburg. She said both positions provide the opportunity to address systemic issues that can make the community feel less welcoming or inclusive.
At Ship, Halkias has a rather broad job description. Her priorities often are dictated by what happens on campus, what complaints are filed, assuring that the university is in Title IX compliance, and updating and amending policies on, for example, discrimination or sexual harassment. Although much of her work is reactive, she looks forward to developing several proactive initiatives to support a more diverse and inclusive campus environment.
“There are a lot of really hard working and dedicated people who love this university,” she said. “So many people have reached out to me to offer their work and support. They are clearly invested in this university.”
Being its own little “city” has its advantages and disadvantages, Halkias said of Ship. In the heart of the Cumberland Valley on its own 200-acre swath of countryside, it can be easy to tune out life beyond the borders of campus. She encourages the campus community to get out and embrace the world around them.
“There’s a tendency for people to self-segregate. That’s true anywhere, including on campuses.” She said people also have a tendency to believe that certain events or subjects geared toward a particular group or cause are not meant for them. One of her first initiatives tackles that perception.
“Let’s not make people go to diversity—let’s take it to them,” she said.
Halkias found inspiration through a series of videos called “Talk to an Iraqi.” The videos show a young Iraqi man sitting at a small stand in a public setting answering questions about his country and culture from anyone who stops by. Taking this one step further, Halkias is developing something akin to a lemonade stand that would appear on campus with a representative of a certain demographic. Anyone could approach the stand and talk to the person about their culture, race, affiliation, preferences, etc.
“This promotes honest and challenging conversations in a safe space,” she said. “Sometimes people have trouble with the process of taking on diversity, and this puts it in a bite-sized format. I want people to be there on their own terms.”
Halkias also is keenly aware of the ongoing issues with race and free speech nationwide and on college campuses. As an adjunct law professor at Penn State Dickinson Law School, she is participating in a symposium this fall on the First Amendment to specifically navigate these issues in academia.
“There are constitutional issues that have to be addressed and not ignored. How do you address the discomfort that some of the student body is feeling?”
Although she feels that the political atmosphere may have increased or elevated racial issues over the last year, she believes that these discussions are necessary. “It takes more effort to pretend than to address the issues head on,” Halkias said. “I’m hopeful that the veneer is truly off. The work that’s been done has laid the groundwork for future generations.”