Charlie Foster has adopted a limitless approach to her work enhancing diversity and inclusion at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.
Even her definition of diversity has no bounds.
“When I say diversity, I’m talking about each one of our 25,000-plus students,” Foster said. “In my approach, diversity is not limited to heritage. It’s everything in our backgrounds, from where we grew up to financial situation and beyond.”
Since 2016, Foster has served as an assistant vice chancellor for student affairs, director of the Office of Academic Success and Intercultural Services and director of the Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center. She has worked 17 years at Nebraska: the first 15 assisting students as a mental health counselor in the counseling and psychological services program, and the last two-plus as leader of OASIS.
For her dedicated service supporting Nebraska students — including guidance provided as students organized a “Hate Will Never Win Rally” in February 2018 — Foster was awarded a 2019 Chancellor’s Fulfilling the Dream award. Created in 1997, the award honors those who have contributed to the university or broader Lincoln community by promoting the goals and vision of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The honor was presented during Nebraska’s MLK Week keynote address on Jan. 23.
“The award is validating, professionally, and very important to me personally,” Foster said. “The type of leadership that Dr. King put forth is the kind of leadership I want people to see in my work.”
Foster’s passion for diversity and inclusion is spurred by her own life experiences — first as a late-life daughter to an African American man born in the South in 1926, and as a young woman who was raised in and graduated college in Alabama.
“My father grew up in an Alabama that was extremely dangerous for an African American man,” Foster said. “His experiences and my own definitely shaped my beliefs.”
While her father faced a greater wave of racism and repression, Foster encountered lingering hatred as she grew up — a teacher who wouldn’t believe a young black woman could be such a solid writer; a family visitor who said she couldn’t have been accepted to the University of Alabama because he failed to gain entry.
“I had a teacher the next year who helped get me back into the English classes I should have been in,” Foster said. “And, four years after I started college at ‘Bama, my father made a point to go back and tell (the family visitor) that I had graduated and gotten accepted into graduate school — also at ‘Bama.”
Foster’s stepmother also provided positive inspiration in her work to help others within the community. To this day, that dedication to assisting others is a model Foster strives to replicate.
“I try really hard every day to work for every Nebraska student,” Foster said. “My goal is to make each of them feel like they belong at this university and to help them have the success that we know they should have here.
“We want to give them every opportunity to be the very best Husker that they can be.”
OASIS programming and student-led diversity initiatives help advance Foster’s progress toward that goal. Some of her favorite programs include Husker Dialogues, an OASIS leadership initiative and the upcoming Our Nebraska program.
She’s also excited about “Power of Huskers” program, which launches later this semester and is an extension of the “Hate Will Never Win” initiative, along with the hire of Marco Barker as Nebraska’s first vice chancellor of diversity and inclusion.
“I’m sitting on the edge of my seat right now, waiting to see what sort of initiatives Marco will put into play and how my team and others across campus will play as we move forward,” Foster said. “I think this broader focus will push Nebraska to become a national leader in diversity and inclusion.
“In my opinion that’s exactly where we need to be to support Huskers.”