About Jesse Bernal, Ph.D.
As Chief of Staff to the President and Vice President for Inclusion & Equity at Grand Valley State University, Dr. Jesse M. Bernal, Ph.D. is an influential leader overseeing the institution's commitment to diversity and campus climate. With a comprehensive 13-unit division under his guidance, Dr. Bernal supports advancing an inclusive environment for students, faculty, and staff.
Through his leadership, Dr. Bernal ensures Civil Rights compliance across functions such as ADA, Title IX, and Affirmative Action, and supports social justice education/training, Disability Support Resources, and the Kaufman Interfaith Institute. His impactful partnerships extend to Grand Valley's social justice student service centers, which include the Milton E. Ford LGBT Resource Center, Gayle R. Davis Center for Women and Gender Equity, Office of Multicultural Affairs, and Campus Interfaith Resources. In addition, Dr. Bernal collaborates on community engagement and employee relations functions.
Dr. Bernal's role as Chief of Staff to the President expands further to support presidential initiatives and engagement, the Employee Ombuds Office, Division of Education Innovation and School Services (including the charter schools operations office and the NextEd Accelerator), and university strategic planning and innovation highlighting his visionary approach to higher education leadership.
Prior to his tenure in Michigan, Dr. Bernal served as the inaugural Director for Diversity and Inclusion at Santa Clara University in the San Francisco Bay Area. He was instrumental in developing strategies to recruit, retain, and support the success of faculty and staff from underrepresented groups while fostering an inclusive campus climate that benefited the entire university community.
Dr. Bernal's commitment to diversity and inclusion extends beyond individual institutions. He previously coordinated systemwide diversity and inclusion initiatives for ten campuses and five medical centers at the University of California as the inaugural systemwide Diversity Coordinator at the Office of the President. His expertise has been sought after for numerous organizational climate assessment projects, LGBTQ inclusion initiatives, and interfaith community efforts.
With a background in educational outreach and academic support programming, Dr. Bernal has made a significant impact on underrepresented students. He served as the Coordinator of the Educational Outreach Program at UC's most diverse campus in Merced, the Program Manager for pre-college and first-year summer transition programs at UC Santa Barbara, and the Coordinator for a Santa Barbara Public Schools educational outreach program serving low-income 3rd and 4th graders.
During his time as a graduate student at UCSB, Dr. Bernal was appointed to the University of California Board of Regents as a student Regent. In this influential role, he passionately advocated for statewide policies and programs that supported California's diverse student populations, elevating the visibility of underrepresented communities, including LGBTQ students, undocumented students, veterans, and students of color. As Regent, Dr. Bernal chaired the Student Life and Alumni Affairs Committee and co-chaired the Access and Affordability Committee of the University of California's Commission on the Future.
Dr. Bernal's impact extends nationally, where he has been actively involved in the National Association of Chief Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE) and previously served on the Board of Directors, the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity (NCORE), Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU), American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education (AAHHE), American Education Research Association (AERA), and the National Conference on LGBT Equality. His dedication to public service has been recognized through various appointments, including by Governors Rick Snyder and Gretchen Whitmer, to serve on the Hispanic/Latino Commission of Michigan, where he was elected chair of the commission in 2021.
Locally, Dr. Bernal remains deeply engaged in the community. He serves on the executive committee of the Grand Rapids Cesar Chavez Committee and is a member of the Board of Directors for the Grand Rapids Public Museum and the YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids. His previous board roles include the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities, and Arbor Circle. Additionally, Dr. Bernal has contributed his expertise to various diversity and inclusion initiatives, such as the Varnum, LLC Diversity Council, Talent 2025 Diversity and Inclusion Community of Practice, K-Connect Inclusion and Equity Council, Grand Rapids Community Foundation Fund for Community Good Advisory Committee, Andy Lubbers "be nice" Memorial Fund Advisory Board, and the Center for Community Leadership Council for the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, showcasing his commitment to collaboration and community impact.
Dr. Bernal holds a Ph.D. in Cultural Perspectives in Education from UC Santa Barbara and has completed executive education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Center for Studies in Higher Education in the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley. His research has focused on education policy and law, equity and diversity in higher education, campus climate assessments, social justice education, critical race theory, student engagement and development theories, and diversity models in higher education. As an adjunct faculty member in the GVSU College of Education, Dr. Bernal shares his knowledge and expertise by teaching courses on organization and administration in higher education and advising master's students in the College and Student Affairs Leadership program.
Dr. Jesse M. Bernal is a visionary leader dedicated to creating a more inclusive and equitable higher education environment. His collaborative approach and expertise in diversity and inclusion make him a driving force for positive change at GVSU and beyond. His commitment to equity and his engagement with local and national organizations exemplify his passion for making a lasting impact. With his extensive experience and academic background, Dr. Bernal inspires and empowers others to champion diversity, advance social justice, and create a brighter future for all learners.
COMMUNITY SERVICE AND ENGAGEMENT
- The Rapid Transit Mater Plan Steering Committee (2023-Present)
- Grand Rapids Community Foundation Centennial Campaign Council (2022-Present)
- Mayor-Appointed Councilmember (2022-Present), City of Grand Rapids Community Relations Commission
- Chair (2022-Present), Commissioner (2018-Present), Hispanic/Latino Commission of the State of Michigan: Appointed by Governor Rick Snyder; Reappointed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer
- Board of Directors (2019-Present), Greater Grand Rapids Area YMCA.Board of Trustees (2017-Present)
- Board of Directors (2019-Present), Grand Rapids Public Museum
- Advisor, Andy Lubbers “Be Nice” Fund, Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan (2017-2022)
- West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors (2018-2022)
- Arbor Circle Board of Directors (2017-2020): Governance Committee (2018-2020); True Colors Initiative LGBT Homelessness Committee (2016-2019)
- Fund for Community Good Advisory Committee, Grand Rapids Community Foundation (2016-2020)
- Inclusion and Equity Practitioner, Talent 2025 of West Michigan (2016-2020)
- Equity Advisor, K-Connect of Kent County, Michigan (2016-2019)
- Center for Community Leadership Council, Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce (2015-2021): Leadership Grand Rapids (2015); OutPro Advisory Council (2016-2019)
- Advisor, Diversity Council, Varnum LLP (2016-2019)
- Director, Board of the Grandville Avenue Arts and Humanities (2015-2018)
SELECT RECOGNITIONS & HONORS
- 25 Most Influential Latinos in West Michigan (nominee), 2023
- Top DEI Leaders in Michigan, Crain’s Grand Rapids, 2023
- Notable LGBTQ Leader in Business, Crain’s Detroit, 2022
- Jack Chaille Community Philanthropy Award, 2022
- Grand Rapids Community Foundation 100 New Philanthropists, 2022
- Gillett Society, Grand Valley State University, 2020
- Aguila Latino Legacy Award, Grand Rapids Committee to Honor César E. Chávez, 2018
- 40 under 40, Grand Rapids Business Journal, 2017
- LAM Latino Network of the Silicon Valley, Member of the Month, 2014
- LGBT Advocate Award of Distinction, UC Santa Cruz, 2011
- STAR Award for Outstanding Employee Contributions, UC Office of the President, 2013
- Regent Emeritus, UC Board of Regents, 2010
- UC Santa Barbara Graduate Student Association Dixon-Levy Service Award, 2011
- UC Santa Barbara University Service Award, 2012
- UC Student Advocate of the Year, 2008