A farewell celebration for Dr. Larry Burnley, associate vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer was held Thursday afternoon commemorating Burnley’s time at Whitworth. Burnley is leaving Whitworth to take a similar position at the University of Dayton in Burnley’s home state of Ohio. President Beck Taylor remarked on Burnley’s work within his hired position as he expanded the diversity of Whitworth, but quickly pointed out Burnley’s contributions to Whitworth as a whole along with Burnley’s efforts to increase “courageous conversations” within Christian higher education. Taylor expressed thankfulness for the entire Burnley family along with Burnley’s wife, Naima’s, work within the Spokane community, most recently as president of the NAACP Spokane.
Burnley said that while leaving Whitworth was a hard decision, he and his family felt called by God to move to Ohio. Burnley expressed thankfulness to his friends at the celebration and the entire Whitworth community for accepting his family and creating an environment where his work could flourish.
Burnley’s time at Whitworth since January 2010 has developed as he has taken on more roles, with most recently becoming Whitworth’s first chief diversity officer. His tenure has also has been marked by a campus-wide desire to increase the university’s diversity while the administration and students grapple with what “diversity” means to the institution.
“With the help of Larry’s important contributions, Whitworth’s population of historically underrepresented racial and ethnic students, as well as first-generation college students, has doubled,” Taylor wrote in an announcement to the Whitworth community on May 26 after Burnley initially announced his resignation. “In addition to these achievements, Larry has brought a decidedly Christ-centered posture to [his] work, and he has been faithful to articulate Whitworth’s goals in these areas within the context of Whitworth’s mission to honor God, follow Christ and serve humanity.”
Taylor commended Burnley’s leadership throughout his time at Whitworth and the efforts he has made toward furthering the Whitworth 2021 goals, especially those relating to diversity.
With those challenges Burnley has served on Whitworth’s Institutional Diversity Committee and Diversity Cabinet, a leadership role Taylor believes has led the university to be on “the cusp of developing its first-ever Institutional Diversity Action Plan.”
Burnley’s focus has traveled outside racial minorities with his leadership on cabinets and involvement with students supporting all groups of marginalized individuals.
“One of the things I’ve wanted to do is cultivate a culture of conversation about, when we say ‘diversity,’ what are we talking about?” Burnley told the Whitworthian in 2013. “Is this something the university is doing for ‘them,’ whoever ‘they’ are, or does the university see a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion as being essential to the gospel of Jesus Christ and central to its mission?”
His influence at Whitworth also extended outside of administration as he taught history courses focusing on American diversity courses. Specific courses taught students the American history and authors students prior classes did not discuss along with examining the pattern of storytellers and how groups are oppressed through history.
The perspective of diversity of campus has shifted since Burnley came to Whitworth.
“I’ve seen a change in the way the institution understands how these issues pervade the entire life of Whitworth,” Burnley said in 2013. “It’s not just a student life thing, it’s not just an academic thing, it’s a Whitworth thing.”
Burnley assured attendees at his celebration that he was a lifetime Whitworthian and would return to visit the campus.