Building together

As Loyola's first vice president of institutional DEI, Dominique Jordan Turner is poised to make a difference—but she won't be doing it alone

By Adam Doster

Vice President of the Institute for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Dominique Jordan Turner

Dominique Jordan Turner thinks of herself as “a builder.” Why follow somebody else’s blueprint when you can design your own from scratch?

This fall, she launched one of her biggest projects yet—joining Loyola University Chicago as its vice president of institutional diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Sitting on the University’s cabinet and reporting to the Office of the President, Jordan Turner will lead and coordinate urgent DEI efforts across Loyola’s campuses. Early on, her charge will include an assessment of the new Strategic Plan, ensuring Loyola’s long-term priorities are as equitable as possible. She’s the first person in Loyola’s history to occupy her position.

Consciously or not, this role is one that Jordan Turner has been preparing for her entire life. She was born on Chicago’s South Side; her parents grew up in the Ida B. Wells Homes in Bronzeville and gave birth to Dominique as teenagers. Their daughter was the first person in their family to graduate high school and college. She largely credits such achievement to her mother, who relocated with Jordan Turner to Niles, Michigan in search of more stability. It was the type of town with one train station and a few stop lights. Black people were few and far between.

College sent her to Clark Atlanta University, a historically Black research university and one that felt far removed from her Niles roots. “I wanted to go to a place where I felt at home,” she says now. She arrived with big dreams, thinking perhaps she’d become the next Oprah. Her mom counseled her to try something more practical, like business. While enrolled, Jordan Turner carried 18 credit hours each semester and worked three jobs at a time, maximizing her tuition money and putting off the possibility of distressing calls from the financial aid office. She’d never seen Black wealth like she encountered in Atlanta, a place where people with power looked just like her.

Like a lot of high-performing graduates in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Jordan Turner tried her hand at management consulting, working for Deloitte. She was challenged by the work and enjoyed the perks—per diems, travel—but felt unfulfilled. “I was making companies more money. I was doing spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations,” she says.

Despite protestations from her grandmother, who dubbed her an “educated fool,” she flipped 180 degrees and left Deloitte for the Peace Corps. Her placement was in Panama, where she spent two years living on a monthly stipend of $300. She built trust with her new neighbors by teaching English, secured computer donations through old consulting connections, and coordinated with Panamanian women to set up a neighborhood computer center. (It was eventually certified by the country’s ministry of education.) Using her business training to empower people in need was invigorating; it gave her life a renewed purpose.

For the next 15 years, and back in the States, Jordan Turner took on new leadership roles. Most recently, her own consultancy, Dare To Be the First, has helped clients like General Mills encourage their talented women and people of color to be more bold, confident, and effective leaders in the workplace. Previously, Jordan Turner served as CEO of Chicago Scholars, which helps first-generation and low-income Chicago students get into and through college, and oversaw a five-fold expansion of its staff and budget. (In 2020, LeBron James named Chicago Scholars his nonprofit of choice during the NBA’s All-Star Game festivities in Chicago.) Young people find novel ways to push the envelope. Jordan Turner appreciates their passion and energy—working on their behalf keeps her young, while also helping maintain some semblance of street cred with her preteen daughter.

Vice President of the Institute for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Dominique Jordan Turner. (Photo: Lukas Keapproth)
Vice President of the Institute for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Dominique Jordan Turner. (Photo: Lukas Keapproth)

Jordan Turner is now on campus and making connections with Loyolans of all stripes. She’s planning a broad listening tour as well as regular office hours in an attempt to grasp what equity problems people want addressed: what has been done, what hasn’t, and how does the University measure success? “My leadership style is to co-create things,” she says.

She was encouraged by what she saw during the interview process and her early orientation. While plenty of organizations talk a big game about DEI, she thinks “Loyola’s commitment has clearly been demonstrated.” It will be her responsibility to bring under one roof disparate initiatives and establish what she calls an “institutional vision” for DEI. Student concerns, no doubt, will be front and center.

Moving into a Jesuit environment, Jordan Turner will relish the opportunity to bridge her work and her faith. And while she’s at Loyola, she’ll keep in mind the example of her own mother, who majorly sacrificed to give Jordan Turner chances that every young person deserves.

“My mother is probably the hardest working person that I know—she always had three jobs at least, and took care of her kids. No matter how hard she worked, she could never do more than just pay the bills,” she says. “It wasn’t because she was lazy. It wasn’t because she was a bad person. It was where she was born, and in what skin she was born. I thought as a kid that was unfair. And as an adult, we know there are some justice and equity issues underneath.”

At Loyola, Jordan Turner will bring issues like those to the surface, allowing the University community to interrogate them collectively. Her blueprint is waiting to be drawn.