Message from Vice President Bernal

Dear Laker Community:

While the national climate is tense and we continue to witness incidents of hate, bigotry, and violence across the country, Grand Valley will continue to affirm our values for inclusion and equity. But more than just issuing statements, we seek to be a campus focused on actively addressing inequities and creating a community where civil dialogue and respect, even when we disagree, are commonplace and where safety and well- being are top priorities. I remain confident that Grand Valley is well positioned to address any challenge that may be ahead of us.

Just over a decade ago, President Haas made an intentional decision to institutionalize our community values through the creation of the Division of Inclusion and Equity. While systemic inequities are not always under the university's direct control, Grand Valley has worked concertedly to be the best place for the success of all students. We are also mission-driven in our pursuits to transform society through our engagement with the next generation of leaders.

These efforts are foundational to who we are as a community and a cornerstone of our curriculum. As an institution where people of all identities come together to live, learn, and work, we recognize the responsibility we have to speak up against attempts to divide people based on difference. We remain committed to creating an environment where everyone can be their full authentic selves, and where your Laker Effect-- our collective impact on the campus, West Michigan, the state, and beyond-- can be fully realized by every single member of our community.

We have set a high bar for our work to advance inclusion and equity-- that we will be the national model in higher education. My hope, in our witnessing behaviors that are contradictory to our values in the news or on our social media feeds, is that the stark reality of what we see will open the eyes and hearts of those who may resist acknowledging the impact of bigotry, and motivate those of us committed to eliminating inequities to redouble our efforts. I hope you will all join me, and the rest of the Grand Valley community, in continuing to move us toward this goal.

Very Sincerely,

Jesse M. Bernal, Ph.D.
Vice President for Inclusion and Equity & Executive Associate for Presidential Initiatives

Jesse M. Bernal

Vice President Biography

As Vice President for Inclusion and Equity & Executive Associate for Presidential Initiatives, Dr. Jesse M. Bernal, Ph.D., oversees Grand Valley’s State University’s coordinated efforts to advance diversity and campus climate for students, faculty, and staff, including a 13-unit division. The Division of Inclusion and Equity includes oversight of Civil Right compliance functions, including ADA, Title IX, and Affirmative Action, social justice education/training, social justice student service centers including Disability Support Resources, LGBT Center, Center for Women and Gender Equity, Multicultural Affairs, and Campus Interfaith Resources, the Kaufman Interfaith Institute, K-12 Pathways to College office, Veterans Upward Bound Program, and community engagement and employee relations functions.

Prior to coming to Michigan, Dr. Bernal served as Director for Diversity and Inclusion at Santa Clara University in the San Francisco Bay Area, California. In this role, he developed strategies for the recruitment, retention and success of faculty and staff from underrepresented groups and supported efforts to enhance campus climate for faculty, staff, and students. Previously, Dr. Bernal coordinated systemwide diversity and inclusion initiatives for 10 campuses and five medical centers at the University of California as systemwide Diversity Coordinator at the Office of the President. He has served as a consultant on numerous organizational climate assessment projects, LGBT inclusion initiatives, and interfaith community efforts. He also previously worked in educational outreach and academic support programming for underrepresented students as Coordinator of the Educational Outreach Program at the UC’s most diverse campus in Merced, Program Manager for pre-college and first-year summer transition programs at UC Santa Barbara, and Coordinator for a Santa Barbara Public Schools educational outreach program serving low-income 3rd and 4th graders.

While a graduate student at UCSB, Dr. Bernal was appointed to the University of California Board of Regents as student Regent and advocated for a range of statewide policies and programs to support California’s diverse student populations, particularly raising the profile of underrepresented communities such as LGBT students, undocumented students, veterans, and students of color. As Regent, he 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.

On a national level, Dr. Bernal has been active in National Association of Chief Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE) and serves on the Board of Directors, 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. In 2018, he was appointed by Governor Rick Snyder to the Hispanic/Latino Commission of Michigan.

Locally, he serves on the executive committee of the Grand Rapids Cesar Chavez Committee, is a member of the Board of Directors of the Grand Rapids Public Museum (also a Museum Trustee), the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids, and Arbor Circle. He also serves on 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, the Center for Community Leadership Council for the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, among other service efforts.

Dr. Bernal received his Ph.D. in Cultural Perspectives in Education from UC Santa Barbara. He has completed executive education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. His research has focused on education policy and law, equity and diversity in higher education, campus climate assessments, social justice education, critical race theory, and student engagement and development theories and models of diversity in higher education. He is an adjunct faculty member in the GVSU College of Education and regularly teaches organization and administration in higher education and advises master’s students in the College and Student Affairs Leadership program. Dr. Bernal received his Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Westmont College (Santa Barbara).