Debbra Sweat, office administrator for the Office of Equal Opportunity and Access, has worked at the UI for more than 30 years.
Born in Champaign, Sweat describes herself as a military brat who was raised all over the United States, with stops in Belleville, Ill., and Topeka, Kan., along with some time overseas in Seville, Spain. The final stop was Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul. She later graduated from Rantoul Township High School and attended Parkland before joining the university work force.
Sweat started as Extra Help in 1978 before being hired full time in May 1979 as a clerk typist II in what was then the Personnel Services Office. Over the course of her career, she also has worked for Instructional Resources, University Housing and CITES (Campus Information Technologies and Educational Services).
After starting in Personnel Services’ Affirmative Action Division, she says her career has now come full circle after moving to the Office of Equal Opportunity and Access 2 1/2 years ago.
Sweat continues to live in Rantoul and is surrounded by her immediate family.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR JOB.
My day varies depending on the tasks and projects in the office. My primary role is to support the director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Access by managing her schedule, coordinating office operations and, in conjunction with the director, overseeing the operating budget. I provide assistance and support to six academic professional staff members and supervise two civil service employees and a student worker.
TELL ME WHAT YOUR OFFICE DOES.
The goals and objectives of this office are vast and detailed. One of the primary functions is to facilitate affirmative action and equal employment opportunity compliance for the campus, which means we oversee the hiring process for academic vacancies. We also provide campuswide training in workplace issues on diversity, discrimination and harassment, and accessibility.
In addition to the search process, which involves a large volume of data collection, analysis and reports, our office prides itself on the leadership role we have taken in promoting diversity and inclusivity at Illinois through the chancellor’s “Inclusive Illinois” initiative.
We also have numerous ongoing projects and programs, including updating and revising the search guidelines that will involve campuswide training later this semester; the Martin Luther King events to be in January; diversity roundtables; and a women’s leadership conference targeting faculty, staff and students in the spring. We also co-sponsor several campus and community events.
COULD YOU TELL ME A LITTLE ABOUT THE SEARCH PROCESS?
When a college, department or administrative unit has a faculty member or academic professional opening, they seek approval to conduct a search, and we monitor the process. Once the hiring decision is made, a summary narrative is submitted to our office for review to ensure compliance with the policies and protocol of the search guidelines and the university’s affirmative action plan. We also verify that all documentation is noted and on file electronically to support their hiring decision.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT YOUR JOB?
The sheer variety of it. Sometimes you just don’t have time to think because there’s so much going on! I love working with people, and assisting them so they can solve their problems. It’s a very busy office, but it’s also a great place to work. Everyone works as a team.
Our office also provides outreach to community members who feel there are barriers between the university and the community. This includes assisting minorities by identifying and promoting employment and training opportunities available on campus. I enjoy meeting those who seek aid from our office, and make every effort to promote a positive image of our office and of the Illinois campus.
WHAT’S YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE ON THE JOB?
Keeping up with my director! She’s very energetic and very involved across campus. Therefore, work around the office is very fast-paced but exciting. She’s been a great mentor and I’ve learned a lot.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO OFF THE JOB?
Away from work, I’m very family-oriented. I have an adult son, Derek, and teenage nieces and nephews. Their various athletic and social activities keep their families and me on the move.
I like to travel, shop and read. One of my favorite destinations is Wilmington, N.C. It’s beautiful along the coast. My wish would be to visit Jamaica.