Audrey Bentley: a Profile in Dedication

September 8, 2021 - Annie Dubois

Audrey BentleyBehind the scenes of every celebration of diversity, equity and inclusion at MSU, there stands an exceptional leader — her name is Audrey Bentley. Her demeanor is welcoming, wise, and witty, and it’s no wonder that she’s propelled the university to be a trailblazer for DEI.

Since 1972, Audrey has worked within MSU’s Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives, a unit that she’s seen shaped over time by the tides of societal change. Now, she is the Office’s Senior Outreach Coordinator, where she leads the coordination of several annual university-wide programs, such as the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and César Chávez/Dolores Huerta Commemorative Celebrations, the Excellence in Diversity Awards Program, and the inaugural Juneteenth Celebration.

“I love every program I work on because I get the opportunity to delve into culture and listening and learning from people who identify with those cultures,” Audrey said. “I get the opportunity to celebrate nationally renowned individuals who’ve been involved in social justice movements, equity issues and human rights issues, and this is where I shine. I love meeting people; I love learning about people. I like to find ways to bring people together.”

One particularly impactful event Audrey coordinated was Project 60/50, an event held in 2014 that celebrated both the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision and the 50th anniversary of the enactment of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Through her coordination of the event, Audrey reached beyond MSU and into the East Lansing community, involving organizations like the East Lansing Public Library and the Greater Lansing Food Bank.

“I got the chance to meet people I had not met before,” Audrey said. “I got the chance to connect these organizations to MSU and the work we’re doing and help the community understand how we can work together for the same purpose.”

Coordinating these events isn’t just a job for Audrey, it’s her passion, and one that she shines at. Collaborating with faculty, staff and students across the university to create these events is what Audrey loves most about the job — connecting with people, being creative, and finding a common vision.

With every program she coordinates, Audrey prioritizes creating spaces for people to come together and feel comfortable sharing their experiences. It’s this type of welcoming environment Audrey cultivates that has propelled DEI initiatives within the university and inspired new connections and dialogue.

“Audrey has changed and unified this institution through her many activities,” said Deborah Johnson, director of the Diversity Research Network in the Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives. “We owe her a debt of gratitude and respect for her accomplishments and the teams she has led. Quiet leadership is often the most powerful.”

Audrey Bentley at 60 50 projectThroughout her decades-long career, Audrey has served in a multitude of roles, from anti-discrimination compliance to supervising hiring within the university. Her experiences have molded her philosophy of DEI, as she’s seen attitudes toward inclusion shift over time. By experiencing these shifts, Audrey is able to understand the difficulties inherent in cultural change and societal evolution, which guides her work at the university.

“Someone told me years ago to just keep living. Things are going to evolve in ways that we will not always be prepared for, but just keep living,” Audrey said. “With DEI, I knew we had to really force ourselves to envision what direction we were headed in and what we wanted our future to look like. We had to break down those things that divided us out of ignorance in a way that was natural.”

Audrey credits her ability to “just keep living” to her career at MSU, which has allowed her to be a lifelong learner and work with people from diverse backgrounds. These experiences have allowed her to feel more comfortable questioning her beliefs and adapting to change — which are traits that make her an invaluable asset to the university.

“Her wisdom and courage are nothing short of inspirational, and whenever I need a thoughtful partner in working through a difficult situation, she is typically the first person I seek out,” said Patricia Stewart, director of Education and Development Programs in the Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives. “It is easy to marvel at the many, many years Audrey has dedicated in service to the DEI mission at Michigan State University, because this is an incredible accomplishment. I am certain, though, that the larger impact she has had on the individuals — the students, the faculty and staff she has interacted with over the years — is her legacy.”