First two CDO candidates visit campus
Last week, the University’s first two candidates for the newly-formed chief diversity officer position took questions from students about how they view the position and what qualifies them to serve the University community.
The first candidate addressed a small group of students on Tuesday afternoon, discussing her work history and education. A second candidate spoke on Wednesday, while two more candidates will speak on Thursday and next Wednesday. To protect the candidates’ current employment and the integrity of the search process, the Justice is not including names or identifying information about the candidates.
The first candidate has served in CDO roles and other administrative positions at other universities. She is a member of the National Association of Chief Diversity Officers in Higher Education.
After a brief introduction from Prof. Irving Epstein (CHEM), who chairs the CDO search committee, the candidate addressed the crowd. She defined “diversity” as including multiple factors and aspects of identity and explained that her approach is to be “inclusive and yet differentiated,” meaning that while “diversity” encompasses many parts of identity, “there are times that we need to be able to address a particular segment of the diversity community in a way that is authentic.” She pointed to women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields and “minority male success” as examples where her work requires her to “zero in” on a particular segment of the population.
She said her perspective is informed by civil rights and Equal Employment Opportunity law, as well as American histories of exclusion and current-day marginalization. She told the group that she also considers herself “a student of this work” and said that studying microaggressions, implicit bias and imposter syndrome are all important aspects of her current work.
“The vision for me would be having members of this campus community, across constituencies, all really believe the reality and have that reality of social justice and inclusion resonate,” she said.
At her previous university, her work involved recruiting and retaining racial minority students from area high schools. She emphasized building institutional metrics for diversity progress, such as climate surveys and institutional goals.
When asked how she would adjust from a larger university to a smaller university, the candidate replied that getting a good understanding of campus culture would be critical. While she said it would be “awfully presumptuous” not to see what students think the campus’ needs are, she said the draft Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Steering Committee document provides a good starting point, particularly on building a diverse student body and faculty. She proposed that some of the programs she worked on have “general applicability.”
Other students asked how she would address the needs of the rising international student population, the underrepresentation of Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander students and the lack of pathways for immigrants to attend the University. On all topics, she asked students to continue informing the University about the issues so the administration could begin to address them.
When asked how she could create institutional change within the Brandeis administration, she pointed to her membership in the NADOHE and her experience in other administrative roles. She says having “some sense of political savvy” is crucial to being an effective CDO. “The beauty about Brandeis is that the bone structure is sound in terms of what the words say,” she said. “I’d like to say that I have had a role over time at institutions of being able to acknowledge who we are and who we say we are, and help people close that gap,” she said.
The second candidate for the position of CDO visited campus on Wednesday. She has worked as a counselor and multicultural dean at other universities and has a rich experience in public service.
She told the group on Wednesday that she believes that social change comes both from institutional policy change and grassroots, bottom-up efforts, which she said is relevant both on college campuses and in today’s politics.
When asked how she would approach working with faculty and staff, the candidate explained that she believes “[the] institution has the responsibility to equip their faculty and staff as educators to do the work well before changing the population.”
“I am not going to say that every faculty member must take this [diversity] training, because I know that I can be less effective on a certain level if I force it down people’s throat,” the candidate acknowledged. “What I can say is, if you are a department chair, you have the responsibility, and you need to have cultural competency. Let me give you some tools for that so you can mentor the other faculty in your department.”
The candidate also touched on the need to understand and be aware of bias. “You [have] to get your people to understand how to read through that lens and understand implicit bias,” she told the group. “Treating them all the same is not what you need. You need to understand the needs of different groups.”
An earlier version of this article referred to Prof. Steve Goldstein (BIOC) as the chairman of the CDO search committee. Prof. Irving Epstein (CHEM) actually chairs the committee.