Chief diversity officers fill important roles

Chasity Pugh

After meeting with representatives from the Black Collegians of LOYNO, the Rev. Kevin Wildes, S.J., university president, issued a statement that one of their demands, the need for a chief diversity officer would be fulfilled by May 30, 2016.

The request made by the students came in the wake of a series of protests by University of Missouri students that occurred last year where student leaders nationwide created lists of demands involving diversity at colleges to create change within their campuses.

While many believe that a chief diversity officer will solve issues of microagressions within students and faculty and hire more instructors of color, there are various other duties that the person in this position would fulfill.

M.L. “Cissy” Petty, vice president of Student Affairs, said that the role of a chief diversity officer is to work with a variety of cabinet members and departments to strengthen the campus in terms of climate and culture for diversity and inclusion.

“Many of these type positions work closely with hiring committees to support diversity of faculty, staff and administrative leadership. The CDO will lead the creation of campus-wide diversity education and professional development programs,” Petty said.

Petty states that it would be critical for the chief diversity officer to work with the diversity committee and others to institute a strategy with a timeline, measurements and assessments to strengthen diversity within the institution.

Deborah Love, vice president of Tulane University’s Office of Institutional Equity, said that while there are different models for chief diversity officers, the most respected are those that expand the boundaries from organizational structures and planning.

“You want someone who has influence and the ability to work with the institution and someone who understands the legal issues, student values and issues and how to recruit and retain faculty of color,” Love said.

Love says that while a chief diversity officer is indeed a role for one person, one cannot accomplish everything alone and must work with others in order to be successful.

“We work in a collaborative fashion to address inclusion and diversity and have a model for a diversity officer. An institution has to make a decision: if you want to make this happen you have to make sure that this is strong. Otherwise it won’t be beneficial,” Love said.

Benjamin Reese Jr., vice president of the Office for Institutional Equity at Duke University, agreed the role of a chief diversity officer is not a stand-alone job and the person must work with both the university president, provost and others to get the job done.

“The role of a chief diversity officer is critically important on college campuses. They are the most senior executive who has responsibility to provide leadership for diversity and inclusion for faculty, staff and students,” Reese said.

Reese is a psychologist who has been doing work with race and diversity for 50 years and is executive board president for the National Association of Diversity Officers.

“I think that a chief diversity officer is typically someone who, 24 hours a day, thinks and works to provide leadership to enhance culture within an institution,” Reese said.

Overall, fulfilling the needs of students is one of the most important responsibilities of a chief diversity officer.

“It is all about being instrumental and pushing forward towards change. From creating a student-friendly and supportive space for students of color, LGBTQ and those who are underrepresented and underprivileged,” Love said.

Petty has faith that this position on campus will provide students with the much-needed support that they have been asking for.

“My hope is that all members of the campus community feel much more supported, welcomed and challenged to learn new and different ideas. There are exciting opportunities for programs–from music, art, theater to a robust speaker’s series. Having this position on the president’s cabinet also insures that the leaders of the institution are apprised of early and often regarding issues that arise,” Petty said.