James Wilkerson, director of Staff Equity & Diversity and deputy Title IX Coordinator at IU Southeast (IUS), joined the IU family on April 6, well into the COVID-19 pandemic. However, as a New Albany native, Wilkerson found the transition to IUS familiar.
“IUS has always just been a part of my life,” Wilkerson said. “For me, it just feels like going back home.”
Wilkerson described a higher education path as “non-traditional.” After graduating in 2006 from the University of Louisville with a degree in English, Wilkerson worked in insurance sales before realizing he needed a graduate degree to achieve his goal. “As you know, getting a master’s degree can be expensive, and I was still struggling with my undergraduate student loans,” Wilkerson said. “But, the loophole I found was if you work for a university, nine times out of ten, they let you go to school there for free.”
In 2010, Wilkerson began working at Ivy Tech in Sellersburg, Indiana, as an academic advisor. A year later, he transitioned to Bellarmine University, where he earned a master’s degree in communication. However, the school was too small with too few opportunities for Wilkerson and he returned to the University of Louisville. According to Wilkerson, it was during this time he first got involved with diversity, working as the coordinator for the African American Male Initiative, a program dedicated to the retention and graduation of African American male students. While there, Wilkerson developed a passion for Title IX work and collegiate sexual assault prevention, all while working towards a law degree.
“I saw it as an area where I could be of assistance, especially as a male who can help guide other males to be advocates,” Wilkerson said.
Additionally, Wilkerson applied for a job at the Prevention, Education, and Advocacy on Campus and in the Community (PEACC) Center, which deals with sexual misconduct on an advocacy level but not hired due to a lack of advocacy experience.
“In response to that, I was very ‘I’ll show you advocacy,’” Wilkerson said. “I started a group called Greek Law, a nonprofit organization that goes to high school and middle schools teaching sexual assault prevention, consent, and social-sexual responsibilities. If the University of Louisville wasn’t going to let me follow my passion, I was going to find my route to do it.”
Due to financial mismanagement by upper administration, Wilkerson was laid off from the University of Louisville in 2017 and worked as a law clerk for the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office for a year and a half before becoming a staff attorney for a circuit court judge. However, Wilkerson returned to the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office soon afterward, this time as a legislative law clerk.
Wilkerson applied for his current position late into the fall of 2019, receiving the call he was selected the day before his birthday. “Best birthday ever,” Wilkerson said. “And the next day, the whole country shuts down, so I got in right under the wire.”
As director of staff diversity and equity, Wilkerson works on IUS diversity initiatives, especially when it comes to the staff and faculty side of things. “I’d say that our overall goal is to be known as the campus that does diversity right,” Wilkerson said. “That it is a destination for professionals in the higher education realm that is diversity and does diversity correctly.”
As deputy Title IX coordinator, Wilkerson is the lead investigator when it comes to student sexual misconduct or harassment. Additionally, there is an educational component with Wilkerson giving a variety of lectures on Title IX topics to the student body.
“This position is a combination of all of my professional passions,” Wilkerson said. “It takes my knowledge of law and legislation and combines it with my passion for sexual assault prevention and social justice, wrapping it all up in a nice neat package. While I was studying for the bar exam, it just hit me that being an attorney wasn’t something I wanted to do. One of the biggest lessons I learned being in law school is you will find out what you want to do by finding out what you don’t want to do. I need a position and a job that uses all of my talents and charisma. I need something where I will be in front of people and work hand and hand with them. When this position popped up, I was like “yep, that’s my job right there.’”
Wilkerson’s position puts him at the helm of diversity and Title IX work at IUS. As such, he has a unique goal in mind for each.
“I believe in a trickle-down effect when it comes to diversity,” Wilkerson said. “It has diverse administrators and faculty up top. How can we move the needle when it comes to diverse faculty? What can we do to make IUS attractive to that twenty-something with their master’s in education? How can we make it the top to the list for a forty-year-old ready to take the next step in their career? I believe if we work on our diversity up top, it will trickle down to our students. Students will graduate high school and look at IUS and feel comfortable and see other students and learn from faculty who look like me.”
“As for my Title IX work, my goal is always to get men to step up to the front line and be advocates,” Wilkerson said. “There is a quote from a book called We Believe You that says ‘if women could stop sexual assault we would have already done so. It is on men to step up and be advocates to help us and hold each other accountable.’ And I truly believe that to be law. We need our men to step up and hold each other accountable. I want to cultivate a culture here at IUS where our men are exhibiting healthy masculinity and holding each other accountable. And I think that I can be integral in helping that come about by being a leader for men on campus.”
“My ultimate goal is to become a national voice when it comes to diversity and sexual assault prevention,” Wilkerson said. “And I believe being a part of the IU system is going to give me the tool to achieve that.”