Mount Holyoke prepares to hire first official diversity officer

 Photo by Ayla Safran’18  Racial and ethnic diversity among faculty was one of the demands made by student protesters last semester.

Photo by Ayla Safran’18

Racial and ethnic diversity among faculty was one of the demands made by student protesters last semester.

BY ANNA KANE ’20

At the Oct. 3 senate meeting, Acting President Sonya Stevens announced to the community the administration’s desire to hire a Chief Diversity Officer. 

“We cannot change systems, hearts and minds without having someone devoted to diversity, equity and inclusion,” she said. “We never had an officer on the cabinet level. They will make lasting and meaningful change. We hope some of you will be involved in the search.”  

According to the Office of Admission, Mount Holyoke students come from over 70 different countries. The College also has the second-highest number of international students at a liberal arts institution in the United States in 2018, according to US News & World Report. 27 percent of the student body is comprised of international students, and 29 percent of the Class of 2021 is made up of international students. Additionally, the College has welcomed many transgender and nonbinary students since the admissions policy was formally changed in 2014.

“We are truly a local/global, racially, ethnically, socio-economically, religiously — and by every other measure applied — diverse community,” said Dean of Admission Gail Berson in an email. 

 Graphic by Carrie Clowers ‘20

Graphic by Carrie Clowers ‘20

The Plan For Mount Holyoke 2021 focuses on hiring and retaining more diverse faculty members — a cause that was the subject of several student protests in Spring 2017 — as well as a commitment to becoming a more inclusive and collaborative community. This is to be accomplished through the reallocation of space in Blanchard Unity Center; the creation of a plan for diversity, equity and inclusion for all members of the campus community; and providing faculty and staff with better opportunities to facilitate dialogue about the different backgrounds of students during class time. 

The school is entering the third and final phase of a plan to more successfully focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. The first phase began last fall with the establishment of a connection with the Collaborations Group------ — experts in the field of diversity — to better enable the creation of a plan for more systematic and sustainable diversity initiatives. 

The second phase was the BOOM Conference held last spring that utilized multiple workshops, mediums and experts to better educate the campus community on diversity and inclusion topics such as white privilege, LGBT rights and mental health.

The final phase has been to take recommendations from the BOOM Conference and turn them into a concrete plan of action to be executed over the remainder of the 2017–2018 academic year.

For Diversity Fellow Virginia Guerra ’19, the problem on campus is not diversity, but rather a lack of inclusion among different groups in the community to “bring in the communities together,” she said.

According to Emet Marwell ’18, a student representative on the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Steering Committee, there are students, faculty, staff and senior officers involved in the committee for hiring a Chief Diversity Officer.

“I’m excited because we will be working with third-party consultants who aid in the hiring process for positions such as this one,” wrote Marwell in an email. In the spring of 2016, Amherst College hired Chief Diversity Officer Norm Jones through the same executive search firm that Mount Holyoke College is using, called Isaacson, Miller.

Guerra said that selecting a Chief Diversity Officer should happen in much the same way that prospective professors are selected by the College. Students of color and of different backgrounds should have the opportunity to attend a session with prospective officers and fill out a survey after, she said. 

Marwell said that a “strong Chief Diversity Officer should be able to both relate to students, faculty and staff on a personal level, as well as work with the administration and president’s office to make change in the community.”

Both Marwell and Guerra feel that the administration could be more involved in diversity and inclusion initiatives on campus. There exists a “division between students and the administration (and the erasure of faculty and staff in that situation),” wrote Marwell. Much of the push for inclusion, such as the creation of the Mosaic and Shirley Chisholm Living Learning Communities last year has come from students, said Guerra. 

“If [students] did not fight for those things they might not have had the input from the faculty and staff here,” Guerra said, adding that she is hopeful that the hiring of a Chief Diversity Officer will help faculty and staff become a better resource for inclusion. 

For the campus community, meaningful change will include a focus on inclusion so that Mount Holyoke becomes “an environment that actively embraces and supports students, faculty, staff and administrators of diverse backgrounds and fosters honest, open and productive conversation,” said Marwell.

“Hiring a Chief Diversity Officer is crucial to creating the proper infrastructure to ensure that we will always be at the forefront of the fight to actively support diversity in our institution’s community,” he added.

“The Mount Holyoke community isn’t perfect,” said Guerra, “but I just hope that this person can help with the process of not diversifying the campus but including the different groups on campus and get activities that can mend these different communities together.”

 

 

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