DEI "Why" in Student Affairs


The DEI Champion Spotlight features Rowan community members who are leading the way in DEI initiatives across campus.  Champions featured in the spotlight serve as a great example of how DEI can be reflected throughout the campus. Meet Dr. Joseph Lizza, Director of the Chamberlain Student Center & Campus Activities, as well as read about his team’s important DEI initiatives in the Division of Student Affairs.

Tell us about yourself:

I serve as the Director of the Student Center & Campus Activities. My role consists of providing administrative vision, leadership, and management of the Chamberlain Student Center and Campus Activities, a department that provides an array of programs, facilities, and services in support of the Division of Student Life and University’s mission and core values. I directly oversee the programmatic, service, operational, and financial components of the Student Center auxiliary operation and provide overall leadership in establishing initiatives and goals that promote a culture of quality, inclusion, and service excellent to the University community. In addition to my primary role, I also serve as an adjunct faculty member in the College of Education, a member of the first generation task force, and one of the deputy Title IX Coordinators for the university. I have a bachelor’s degree from Monmouth University in Education, History, and Political Science, and a master’s degree in Higher Education Administration and Ed.D. in Educational Leadership from Rowan University. I currently serve as chair-elect of the National Association for Campus Activities (NACA) Foundation, previously serving on the association’s Board of Directors. Additionally, I serve as the Region II Representative for the NASPA Campus Safety and Violence Prevention Knowledge Community and a member of the Membership Recruitment and Retention Team for the Association of College Unions International (ACUI). 

In my spare time I serve as a consultant for colleges and universities as they conduct external program reviews, as well as an instructor focusing on emergency preparedness and safety trainings for higher education and community organizations. I have served as a volunteer firefighter for 20 years, and a Disaster Response Crisis Counselor for the State of NJ Department of Health & Senior Services for 2 years. I have a wonderful wife and two sons and reside in Hammonton.

Why is DEI work important?

We should all strive to be confident enough to show up each day without fear of being our true selves. When we are, we are more engaged, productive, and creative and will ultimately contribute more to society. A focus on DEI as well as representation goes a long way in making people not feel like an “other” in a classroom, at a university, a workplace, in politics, or even in entertainment.

Simon Sinek has focused on the belief that great leaders always start with “Why” followed by “How” and “What”. I think this is a great way for those who have an interest in DEI to approach this type of work. If those who are open to the concept of diversity, equity, and inclusion would start with the very foundational concept of “Why” is the work important, this could help make their progression to the “How” and “What” much less daunting.

This belief of having to move a mountain to make an impact causes many to stray away from even the simplest adjustments for a more diverse and equitable environment. Once the “Why” is flushed out, individuals and organizations can then focus on “how” they are going to produce positive change, and “what” type of person or organization they are going to be from the perspective of outsiders looking in. 

DEI Initiatives in your department:

It has been a goal of our department to increase our focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives over the past few years, specifically as they relate to our facility, programs, and student staff team. In 2019, I was able to work with divisional leadership to reclassify a position that has a focus on inclusion initiatives directly related to the Student Center and Campus Activities.

Our department professional staff participates in a minimum of one monthly DEI focused meeting, scheduled outside of regular staff meetings. These meetings allow us to focus on the “Why”, “How”, and “What”, or simply discuss a hot topic to situation that may occurred within the context of our positions. Additionally, supplemental reading material are provided to each staff member to review prior to these meetings.

This past fall we purchased Rockbot which is a music streaming service for the Student Center that allows students, faculty, staff to engage with our building’s music. The Rockbot App lets users see the music playing and request songs. We previously have heard the need to have a more diverse playlist, and this allows our users to develop their own playlist.

In 2020 the Student Center Advisory Council was created, allowing us to develop a relationship with a diverse group of students. This group will allow our department to have on-going conversations with stakeholders representing various identity groups.

During my time at a previous institution I had the pleasure of serving on a committee focusing on enhancing engagement for marginalized and unrepresented students. Through the work of this committee we were able to review and adjust a variety of policies and procedures ranging from social event policies, to employment practices. This same work is being done currently within our office as it relates to high risk events and the recruitment and hiring of student staff team members.

In addition to the work done collectively, several staff are involved in higher education association leadership roles focusing access, equity, and inclusion.

DEI resources you would like to share:

Rowan University Student Protest & Activism, resources for students who would like to coordinate activism events such as protests, marches, and similar events. Information on the Protest Response Team, and Student Engagement Advisory Team. I have worked closely with a larger team in developing these resources for the campus community.
Student Protest and Activism | Dean of Students | Rowan University

Association of College Unions International (ACUI) has a variety of recourses on social justice, diversity, and inclusion specifically relating to Student Center and Campus Activities.Equity & Inclusion (

National Association for Campus Activities (NACA) has a variety of resources focusing on Campus Activities and student programming.