Office of Equal Opportunity tasked with clarifying University reporting policies
In a Sept. 4 email to the Brandeis community, University president Ron Liebowitz announced the creation of the Office of Equal Opportunity, which is expected to be operational by spring 2019. The Justice spoke with Dr. Mark Brimhall-Vargas, the University’s chief diversity officer and vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion, about the creation of this new office. The OEO will report to the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
The OEO will bring cohesion and direction to various initiatives promoting diversity, equity and inclusion that are already in place on campus. In an interview with the Justice, Brimhall-Vargas said, “It’s important to recognize that diversity, equity and inclusion efforts existed prior to my arrival [in January 2017].”
“What wasn’t happening,” he continued, “was system-wide, University-wide, strategic direction for that effort. And [with the creation of the Office of Equal Opportunity], that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Brimhall-Vargas explained, “The purpose of [the OEO] is to provide coherence, clarity and ease of use for people to enter a system that they don’t have to figure out. There are systems that can handle it right now,” he continued. “All we’re trying to do is make the system more coherent and user-friendly.”
Although the University has done its best to consolidate resources to make it easier for students to file complaints, there are so many offices involved in the reporting process that knowing where to start can be intimidating, Brimhall-Vargas said.
Brimhall-Vargas explained that in order for a student to file a complaint under the current system, “they need to understand the mechanics … and the structure of the University in a way that nobody can reasonably expect a student to know.”
According to Brimhall-Vargas, it is currently expected that the OEO will operate as a three-person office. Paula Slowe, currently the Title IX case manager, and Anthony Sciaraffa, the Title IX investigator, will join the office and have expanded roles.
The University is also looking for a director for the OEO. Brimhall-Vargas said that the director will “help structure where and how we parse out the work of the office.” The OEO will continue reporting to the ODEI.
The description of the OEO director position, posted on Glassdoor, calls for an individual who “shall serve as the University’s primary Equity Compliance Officer with respect to ensuring the University’s compliance with state and federal anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws.”
The Justice also conducted interviews with Allyson Livingstone, the director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Education, Training, and Development, as well as with two student workers at the ODEI.
Livingstone is responsible for developing the educational and training strategies of the office’s programs. Livingstone shared that her work centers on expanding Brandeis community members’ “understanding about what diversity, equity and inclusion mean in 2018, at Brandeis University.”
Bringing almost 15 years of social justice education experience with her, Livingstone said her work “is really about dialogue and collaboration and shared, mutual learning.” Livingstone continued, “I hope and aspire to do this work with real collaborative energy, with a wish to learn from and with a wish to engage.”
Livingstone does not limit her work to engaging with faculty and staff of the University about diversity, equity, and inclusion pedagogy. She also supports students looking to promote diversity, equity and inclusion. One example is helping students learn about “social justice leadership.”
The ODEI also has student workers who support their undergraduate and graduate peers with issues of identity and inclusion. Talia Franks, a graduate student at Brandeis, gave the example of providing Amber Abernathy ’18, who served as the Union Diversity and Inclusion officer last year, with background information regarding Brandeis student-run clubs and minority representation.
According to a March 2018 Justice article, Abernathy presented on how the Student Union could better ensure equitable club funding. Franks worked with Abernathy to find and analyze statistics that showed despite comprising roughly 50 percent of the student body, clubs representing the Asian, Black, and Hispanic/Latinx communities received a smaller percentage of their requested money.
In an email to the Justice, Edith Suarez, another graduate student, explained her tasks at the office. One of her main jobs is developing and updating web content for ODEI.
Suarez explained that it is an “ongoing task to continue brainstorming and developing ways to ensure that the website serves as a way for people to find information and resources that are critical to their experience at Brandeis in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion.”
The ODEI exists not only to support those negatively affected by incidents stemming from bias or harassment, but also to educate and promote engagement on issues surrounding diversity on campus. To this end, the ODEI partners with the Intercultural Center, the Gender and Sexuality Center, the Multifaith Chaplaincy, and the Office of the Ombuds to help provide students resources.