Director of Counseling Services Believes Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging is Key to a Healthy Student Population聽

Posted May 23, 2024

Sarah Perry is Otterbein鈥檚 Director of Counseling Services. She believes that part of mental health is recognizing and celebrating the diversity in the study population, and making sure each and every individual feels that they belong.  

That鈥檚 why Perry was the recipient of this year鈥檚 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Award for Peace and Justice from the Office of Social Justice and Activism.  

We talked to Perry to learn more about how diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) informs her work.  

Why are equity and inclusion personally important to you? 

I believe that we are all born with inherent value, worth, and gifts that are given to us by God. As such, we all have limitless potential to make the world better than we found it if we can embrace those God-given talents and lift each other up.  Our differences make us stronger and better, but we have to be able to truly listen and learn from one another rather than become defensive and prideful in order for that to happen.  It’s not about who is right and who is wrong, it’s about how I can be a part of what makes the world better instead of bitter. We all will have different struggles in this life, but I believe that is my responsibility to use the opportunities and resources I’ve been given to help make a difference by empowering and uplifting others.  

Why is it important to grow and support a diverse student population at Otterbein? 

It’s not just important to grow and support a diverse student population at Otterbein, it is vital!  If we only think in one direction, in one way, we don’t learn nearly as much about ourselves and how to impact the world around us. As our Chief Diversity Officer Frank Dobson says frequently, “If, as a student, you graduate from Otterbein but still only have a friend group or associate with people who look and think like you do, then we have failed you as an institution.”  

Metaphorically speaking, we are all part of one body, but all of us have different functions in that body. If the brain refuses to communicate with the legs and feet to tell it to move, then the whole body is stuck and never able to move forward.  We must help our students to be proud of who they are, where they come from, and the talents and knowledge that they have to offer the world, while simultaneously helping them to be open and humble to the fact that none of us have it all figured out yet and we need each other to function well.  

How does your work support DEIB efforts at Otterbein? 

The Counseling Center helps individual students and the campus body to focus on wholeness, wellness and healing so that we can move forward, make progress and attain hopes, dreams, and goals. At the Counseling Center, it is our job to care first, listen second, and then empower and support students to identify what they need. There is no cookie-cutter, one size-fits all approach to this so we must be open to learning and growing as well. That is why we work hard to partner with different student organizations and departments on campus to hear about their perspectives and needs. As counselors, we often invite people to lean into uncomfortable feelings and spaces because that is what helps us to grow.  

What do you do in your daily life to foster understanding with those from different backgrounds than you? 

As a professional counselor and in my personal life, I am frequently reading books, articles, research, and watching documentaries or films to better understand experiences and perspectives that are different from my own. I also love to have conversations with people whose belief systems are different than mine. Finally, I love to travel. I have been fortunate enough to travel out of the country multiple times and experience cultures and traditions that are different than my own. Getting out of our own bubble is so important and helps us to better understand not only our world, but also ourselves as well. 

How did it feel to win the MLK Award earlier this year?  

It felt humbling to receive an award linked to the late, great MLK Jr. because of the enormous impact that he made, and continues to make, on our country, the world, and countless hearts and minds. Looking at the award daily reminds me of the continued work that remains to be done in the areas of racial healing, reconciliation/unity and transformation in our society, and my responsibility to carry that forward.