Voices from Campus: Diversity Leadership Takes Many Forms

The past year forced many senior college and university administrators to examine their commitment — or lack thereof — to diversity and inclusion on their campuses. While leaders at a number of institutions received negative attention, with some even tendering their resignations, many more went unrecognized for their service to leading campuses where open dialogue is encouraged and understanding for differences is fostered.

Students, faculty, and administrators from various colleges and universities told INSIGHT Into Diversity about diversity and inclusion efforts on their campuses, what leaders are doing right, and — in some cases — where leadership fell short of expectations.

Kumea Shorter-Gooden, PhD 
Chief Diversity Officer and Associate Vice President at the University of Maryland, College Park

“Issues of race, social justice, and inclusion are at the forefront nationally and on our campuses. In response, President Wallace Loh has launched the Maryland Dialogues on Diversity and Community, aimed at engaging students, staff, and faculty across the university in meaningful conversations about identity, difference, power, and privilege. What we learn from these dialogues will strengthen [the university’s] strategies for substantive change, getting us closer to becoming a university that is fully equitable, diverse, and inclusive.”

Mayte Martinez 
Political Science Major and Student Vice President of Multicultural Affairs at Union College, Class of 2018

“Union College’s administration is cooperative, open to dialogue, and continually strives for greater solidarity. These qualities in an administration are essential to me as I am not only a Latina, but also a first-generation college student. With the influential and visible leadership of Chief Diversity Officer Gretchel Hathaway and Director of Multicultural Affairs Jason Benitez, Union College has always felt supportive and has given me the confidence to pursue leadership positions myself.”

Lydia Singh
English/Biology Major and Chief Inclusivity Officer for the Missouri Student Association at the University of Missouri-Columbia, Class of 2017

“Mizzou lacks institutional support for diversity, but because of this, the relationship among student advocates has become a strong and necessary one when it comes to adjusting to and advocating for the needs of marginalized identities on campus. The Black Cultural Center, Women’s Center, Multicultural Center, Relationship and Sexual Violence Center, [and] LGBTQ Center are filled with resilient communities that work to advocate for minorities. And the apparent absence of aid from administrators within these areas — whether it be funding or participation in events — creates communities that tirelessly work to achieve their goals.

“It is an important time for students and coordinators in these centers as the events of last semester gave social justice the attention it needs on campus. More administrators and faculty members are now creating and attending events that highlight diversity on this campus, and their efforts are apparent. Improvements are definitely trying to be made. As a student, I hope that Mizzou’s future leaders participate in these events not only when national attention calls them to, but that it is something they wholly focus their efforts on throughout the rest of Mizzou’s future. Understanding the intricacies of a diverse student body demands proactive — not reactive — attention and care.”

READ: Diversity and Inclusion’s Slow Climb

Asma Barlas, PhD
Professor, Department of Politics at Ithaca College

“President Tom Rochon’s stake in diversity remains unclear to me. For instance, he refused to renew my term on the President’s Advisory Committee on Diversity, and as a result, the Center for the Study of Culture, Race, and Ethnicity — of which I was then director — was denied representation at that level. He withheld the results of the climate survey and responded to racist incidents belatedly and selectively. And while student protests were raging, he was focused on grooming his own image in the media.”

Sarah Cook, PhD 
Professor and Associate Dean at Georgia State University Honors College

“Georgia State University (GSU) owes some if its success in attracting a diverse student body to its location in downtown Atlanta, the Southeast’s major city. Atlanta is racially and ethnically diverse, and the city and university attract students who want to stretch themselves by living in a microcosm of the world’s diversity. The leadership of the university, particularly President Mark Becker, has embraced diversity as one of its core strengths. In fact, the first goal of the university’s strategic plan is for students from all backgrounds to succeed. This goal has shaped and informed all initiatives related to undergraduate education, and we embark on nothing new without consideration on how a program affects all students. This goal has become part of GSU’s DNA. The next challenge is to diversify the faculty and administration. In this challenge, we are not unique, but it will be a focus of our next strategic plan. If history repeats itself, GSU should make excellent progress on this challenge.”

Robert Tinajero, PhD 
Director of Writing Studies and Associate Professor of English at Paul Quinn College

“Celebrating diversity is a common theme at Paul Quinn College. While the school is a historically black college, with a majority African American student population, it is becoming more and more diverse each year. Celebrating this diversity and respect for all cultures and ethnicities starts from the top down. The president of the college, Michael Sorrell, has addressed the importance of embracing diversity as the school continues to add students of various backgrounds. He has called campus town hall meetings to address diversity and often repeats the mantra, ‘You don’t have to be my color to be my kind.’ He also got on board with my suggestion to start our Race Relations Institute, which will develop programming for our students and community that tackles various issues [around] race, racism, and diversity.

“I believe having instructors from different backgrounds is extremely important for our students. In everyday interactions with people from different ethnicities and cultures, we learn tolerance, respect, and kindness. Professor Mariola Rosario, a Latina from Puerto Rico, teaches Spanish courses at our college and pushes students to learn and engage with a culture that is not theirs. These moments of engagement make a world of difference and help Paul Quinn College celebrate diversity.”

Patricia Rodriguez, PhD 
Associate Professor in the Department of Politics at Ithaca College

“Under President Tom Rochon, diversity and inclusion programs at Ithaca College have been increasingly commanded from the top, and thereby have served only to reassure ourselves of a false notion that we are ‘working on it’ — rather than stopping to examine what it would be like to really listen, create spaces for voices that think otherwise, and de-link from the corporatized discourse, hierarchies, and contradictions inherent in the neoliberal educational system we are in.”