Third CDO finalist meets with students
The third finalist for the new Chief Diversity Officer position spoke in an open forum with students on Thursday about how she sees her role and her experience as a current CDO at a university of around 7,000 undergraduates. The University is gathering student feedback on the four finalists — two of whom spoke on campus last week — through these open forums, with the final forum scheduled for next week.
Community members can access video footage of the previous panels at the Office of the Provost’s website, but the footage is protected behind a Unet log-in to ensure that only Brandeis community members can see the identities of the candidates. To protect the third candidate’s current employment and respect the integrity of the search process, the Justice is not publishing the candidate’s name or identifying information.
The candidate said that she grew up in Puerto Rico in a “very multicultural space” in a diverse neighborhood, which inspired her professional and personal interest in “ethnic studies.” In her current job, she oversees a department focused on cultural engagement with minority groups and works closely with international students in particular. She also engages frequently with student clubs and organizations, including groups focused on black and Afro-American identity, Caribbean cultures and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
She explained that, in her experience, student groups dividing to focus more specifically on individual communities can cause trouble with resources being divided among similar organizations. While she said that groups wanting to preserve their own identity is important, it’s also important to find “values and places where we say, ‘Yes, we’re all going to come together on certain challenges or issues or topics.’”
She said the CDO role involves engaging all parts of the University with diversity and integrating it into coursework and faculty thinking for all majors and minors. She pointed to science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields and pre-med tracks as posing a particular challenge, but noted that she’s worked to integrate new paths and structures into faculty thinking.
The candidate acknowledged that being a CDO doesn’t mean automatically earning the trust of student groups, and she described often “hanging out” with students to gradually earn their respect. She said that a central part of her job will include getting to understand the specific issues at Brandeis.
The candidate applauded the Ford Hall 2015 movement, which demanded the University create a CDO position and led to the current administrative search in the first place. “The way the community cared for you and reached out to you really said a lot about Brandeis,” she said. She added that her current school lacks Brandeis’ cultural emphasis on social justice and described Brandeis as “ahead of the game” for not putting Greek life on campus, explaining that public services is specifically oriented around Greek life at her current school.
She said that her understanding of last year’s events were that “there was confrontation even within the black community,” and that some students felt that their groups were “not part of that circle of conversation.” these, she said, are “real concerns.” She explained that part of her work involves bringing dissenting opinions to a place of understanding, even if dissenting parties never fully agree.
When asked about the programs she would implement to reach out to the Waltham community and high school students of color, the CDO candidate said that she’d first need to hear what students on campus want more or less of, adding that the Brandeis campus already has a great deal of programming and student events on campus.
She also said that Brandeis has done more than her home university to advocate for the transgender community. She said that she is not an expert on Title IX, since her own role currently is not directly involved in her home university’s Title IX process, but that she has done what she can to educate the community on sexual assault through her position. She said that she wants to work more closely on the issue at Brandeis and criticized that administrative roles “sometimes work in silos.”
When asked how she’d set precedent for her new role at Brandeis as a CDO, the candidate said that her priorities have shifted even since that morning. She said that what administrative leaders told her was “you need to create some healing” on campus, and that there’s still discontent and distrust among the community on the issue of diversity on campus. She pointed out that CDOs only have as much power as higher-level administrators permit them to have and that her job balances sitting at the table next to University decision-makers with keeping student groups’ interests in mind. She said that it was clear that students were saying, “We want more students that look different,” and that she would have to develop long-term plans to work on these requests.