Humble beginnings

GVL / Courtesy GVNow
Jesse M. Bernal, Santa Clara University

Charles Barry

GVL / Courtesy GVNow Jesse M. Bernal, Santa Clara University

Drew Howard

As the son of migrant workers and the first in his family to attend a university, Grand Valley State University’s newest vice president for Inclusion and Equity draws from his own experiences in his plans to further develop an inclusive and inviting environment for all students on campus.

Jesse M. Bernal was announced as the new vice president for Inclusion and Equity on Jan. 27 by President Thomas Haas. Bernal will officially replace Jeanne Arnold, the last vice president for Inclusion and Equity, sometime in late February.

Bernal said his career trajectory has been greatly influenced by the family and community he grew up in.

“I grew up in South Texas in a Latino family,” Bernal said. “My parents were migrant farm workers and my grandparents were Mexican immigrants. The area I grew up in was predominately Mexican, and I had a lot of experiences with lack of opportunities.”

This lack of opportunity inspired Bernal to find a solution.

“My experiences with a lack of opportunities sparked me to want to find ways that education could shape and transform similar communities that I grew up in, similar to my family’s community,” Bernal said. “I was the first person in my whole high school and family to go off to college. I was able to experience firsthand the power of education to transform my life.”

Bernal is currently the director of the Office for Diversity and Inclusion at Santa Clara University in California. Before that, he worked on issues concerning inclusion and diversity in the Office of the President at the University of California.

GVSU has been on Bernal’s radar since 2008.

“I’ve known about GVSU for a while now,” Bernal said. “GVSU is at the forefront of equity work. A lot of universities, in my opinion, talk about their support for equity, but having a structure and support behind it is really rare and GVSU models that.”

Bernal said he plans to continue to build off all the work already accomplished at GVSU.

“When I think of equity, I think of representation of different groups on campus and ensuring any inequities or disparities are eliminated,” Bernal said. “So that means we have to continue our work to retain diverse students, faculty and staff.”

In addition, Bernal aims to approach his work by creating a dialogue within the community.

“I think that before I do anything I want to have a lot of conversation with groups and individuals who may not think of themselves as the diverse community,” Bernal said. “When doing what is right with the community, I need to learn from the community.”

Matthew McLogan, vice president for university relations, said Haas chose Bernal for a number of reasons.

“Haas appointed Dr. Bernal because his qualifications, experience and demonstrated commitment to a diverse and inclusive campus made him the best choice,” McLogan said. “Also, the campus community responded enthusiastically to Dr. Bernal’s presentation at the open forum, and also to his life story, his warmth and approachability.”

McLogan added that GVSU is confident Bernal’s leadership will help GVSU continue to make progress toward maintaining a diverse faculty and staff and an inclusive student body.

[email protected]