Wrenetha A. Julion, PhD, MPH, RN, CNL, FAAN, chair and professor in the Department of Women, Children and Family Nursing and a nationally recognized nursing scholar, has been promoted to associate dean for equity and inclusion at Rush University College of Nursing.
In this new senior leadership position, Julion will develop and direct strategies to build and sustain a culture of inclusion and promote a diverse community of students, staff and faculty at the college. She will also identify and oversee community collaborations and help elevate the college’s position as a national leader in the area of health equity.
Taking a strategic approach to diversity
As associate dean for equity and inclusion, Julion is charged with developing, implementing and evaluating a strategic plan to strengthen the college’s diversity efforts in nursing education, practice and research.
“I’m looking forward to collaborating with key stakeholders to develop a strategic plan that can move us forward in terms of greater diversity and greater inclusion,” she says.
Julion believes the college can help nurses reduce health disparities and improve outcomes in at-risk communities across the country by making equity and inclusion a strategic priority.
“We’ve come a long way in terms of diversity in the student composition, but I feel we still have a long way to come in order for the profession to reflect the communities and populations we serve,” she says.
Christine M. Kennedy, PhD, RN, FAAN, the John L. and Helen Kellogg Dean of the Rush University College of Nursing, believes having a well-respected leader like Julion in this new role will help the college advance its mission and vision for diversity, equity and inclusion at a time when there is greater awareness of how social inequities and injustice affect health outcomes across the country.
“To address structural racism in higher education and health care, we need to move away from only voluntary service efforts,” says Kennedy. “Dr. Julion’s prominent role in equity work positions the college to influence and contribute to positive, visible and sustainable change.”
Supporting students and faculty for decades
Since joining the Rush faculty in 1998, Julion has aimed to create a safe, supportive space for students of color who may sometimes feel uncertain about pursuing careers in nursing, given the implicit biases and other challenges they face. “One of my favorite reminders for students is to tell them, ‘You’re here because you’re supposed to be here. You’re supposed to be a nurse, and you’re going to take care of families and communities that others might not,’” she says.
Over the years, Julion has also extended support to faculty, who during their own education, may not have had the opportunity to learn about educating students in ways that consider diversity, equity and inclusion. “A key piece of what I’m doing is helping faculty be comfortable with subjects that they haven’t been taught to teach,” she says. “They may not know all of the answers, but we want them to keep the conversation going and work with students to come up with answers together.”
Julion developed and currently teaches a course focused on cultural competency and community-based service learning for interprofessional students at Rush University. She is also a founding member of the Rush Diversity Leadership Council, which includes leaders across the health system.
Advancing equity-based research to help marginalized populations
Equity and inclusion have been central themes of Julion’s research interests, which have been focused on supporting families of color in low-income communities. As a doctoral student, she co-created the Chicago Parent Program, a nationally recognized, evidence-based parenting program designed to meet the needs of a diverse audience.
Since then, she has received funding from the National Institutes of Health to create the Building Bridges to Fatherhood program, an intervention to foster positive paternal involvement in African American families in which fathers live apart from their children. Currently, she is collaborating with another researcher on a new federally funded intervention to test a father-inclusive model of prenatal care. “What we have to do as providers is create a welcoming space for fathers so that they know it’s not just about the mothers,” Julion says.
Recalling early influences and inspiring others
As a child growing up on the West Side of Chicago, Julion always knew she wanted to be a nurse. She recalls being inspired by Diahann Carroll in the title role of “Julia,” the groundbreaking television show about a young, African American nurse.
Since charting her own path in equity-based research and nursing education, Julion has become an inspiration for others. In her new role at the College of Nursing, she will have even greater opportunities to support faculty, staff and students and advocate for change to improve the health of marginalized populations. “Becoming a nurse and being able to do the work that I do with the communities and families that I care about has been one of the best, most rewarding things I could have ever done,” she says.