Meet Kristin Johnston, Detroit Mercy’s new Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

By Dr. Erin Bell, CETL Staff

This summer, Kristin Johnston, M.Ed. joined the Detroit Mercy community as Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. With a background in diversity and inclusion, sign language interpretation, and instructional design, Johnston brings unique expertise and experience to this new role. As a native Detroiter Johnston has a particular passion for the campus and the community in general.

“I’m really excited about getting to know people on campus and creating a sense of belonging,” explains Johnston. “There’s already a really strong sense of belonging and caring for each other here we’re going to lean into that; I’m hopeful that the work that comes out of this office reaches students across the country and that we have a greater impact on the city.”

Johnston’s professional path brought her back to her hometown. After living in Washington, D. C., Johnston returned to Detroit and began working at Wayne State University as the interpreter for the Student Disabilities Office. Those job duties transitioned, and Johnston began working as the accommodations support specialist on campus at W.S.U., ensuring the accessibility of classroom content. During this time, Johnston also began volunteering with the Office of Multi-Cultural Student Engagement and the Women of Color Learning Community. Johnston was soon asked to apply for a full-time role and began working in the Multi-Cultural Student Engagement as their coordinator for the learning community for women of color called RISE and for LGBTQ student initiatives.

“I really just jumped into the work based on interest and then just a need on campus and then just fell in love with doing diversity work,” says Johnston. “I have a master’s degree in instructional design, so I was creating the workshops and training on campus for students and sometimes for faculty and staff, getting involved with policy and that is how I got involved in diversity work in general.”

 I’m hopeful that the work that comes out of this office reaches students across the country and that we have a greater impact on the city. I’m hopeful that the people that we raise up here become even more globally minded and that impacts our city.


Johnston says that the mission and vision of Detroit Mercy led her to pursue a position here. “I love the social justice portion of the mission and the idea that I can be a person of faith and doing diversity work,” explains Johnston. She also notes that she has a lot of experience being an ally to communities that she is not part of, and she views this as an attribute.

“A lot of times people in social justice and DEI work come to it with the lens that they are a part of the community talking about supporting,” states Johnston, “and I have been supporting communities I am not a part of for a long time, so I am able to see it from that lens and I think that overall brings the idea of grace and learning and learning experiences that are empathetic.”

This understanding is the basis for the programming Johnston is planning for Detroit Mercy. She explains that because not everyone is coming to the table with the same knowledge, she will create training and learning experiences for the campus community that are empathetic and understanding. Beginning in January 2023, faculty and others can look forward to regular workshops and training around topics such as allyship, microaggressions, building inclusive classrooms, and more; all interested parties can stay informed about upcoming events by joining the DEI Listserv.

In addition to planning new programs and new initiatives for staff and faculty, Johnston is also creating opportunities for students to engage in DEI work. “I’m very excited about the Multicultural Student Advisory Board. I spent some time talking with students at the Titan Fest, inviting them to get involved. This will be a chance for students to volunteer and work with the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion specifically on creating programming on campus for heritage months.”

Another initiative that Johnston is passionate about is also developing affinity groups (also known as employee resource groups, which bring together employees with similar backgrounds or interests for discussion and support). Some planned groups will be for Latinx, LGBTQIA+, Black, and Asian/Pacific Islanders community members, among others. An interest form is currently available here. “From those groups,” explains Johnston, “I’m hoping to create some mentorship opportunities between faculty and staff and students, as well as between veteran faculty and staff and those who are newer to the community.”

Photo by fauxels:

While new faculty and staff often benefit from guidance as they navigate the challenges of higher education, Johnston notes that many students require the same grace and understanding, suggesting that the biggest challenges relating to diversity, equity, and inclusion are connected to how the pandemic has impacted young people’s ability and understanding of building and making connections.

“There’s a bit of an understanding gap of how we connect socially,” suggests Johnston. “I think one of the biggest things that faculty and staff should keep in mind is that these students may not know all the ins and outs of connecting with people in leadership (such as their professors). We need to have the understanding that even though students may not be first-gen students, they will  still need all the supports that we would typically give to first-gen students because there are all these things that they missed out during virtual high school classes.”

Quick Ways to Make a Classroom More Inclusive

While Johnston is eager to have sustained discussions with faculty about diversity, equity, and inclusion, she also has some very easy and quick ways to make classrooms more inclusive. “I tend to not gender my language,” says Johnston. Instead of using a gendered phrase such as “you guys” in a class, faculty can use a term like “students,” “everyone” or even the ubiquitous “y’all.”  Johnston notes that she introduces herself with her preferred pronouns she/her/hers but that may not be something that all students are comfortable with yet. However, she explains, “this gives faculty the opportunity to discuss pronouns, and I think that that creates a safe space.”

Another way to be more inclusive in the classroom is to avoid using broad generalizations about groups of people. Educators (and students) should aim to avoid sweeping claims such as “men are aggressive drivers” or “all women are excellent communicators” as there are always exceptions to such rules. Instead, faculty can unpack exemplars and hypotheticals to explore the depth and breadth of human experiences in a way that speaks to diversity.

And, finally, since this is the University of Detroit Mercy, Johnston reminds us to be mindful of the fact that this is a place in which people live and where people have grown up. “There may be people in your classroom that lived right around the corner,” says Johnston, “So making sure that you’re saying nice things about the community in which we are using is incredibly important.” Part of this culture of respect includes a new Land Acknowledgement statement available here which recognizes that the land on which Detroit Mercy operates is the ancestral land of the Three Fires Confederacy, the Ojibwa, Odawa, Potawatomi, and Wyandot nations. This statement can be referenced in syllabus and course documents as well as in presentations and events.

In the end, notes Johnston, “I am here to serve, and if there are people who want to meet with me, I’m more than happy to do that. I would like to publicly thank everyone for the warm welcome. I’m really thankful for that and I’m hopeful that I can continue to work with everybody and meet the needs of the campus community.”