BY MERYL PHAIR ’21
Acting President Sonya Stephens announced in an email to the Mount Holyoke College community on Wednesday, March 21 that Kijua Sanders-McMurtry had been appointed the College’s first vice president for Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer.
Sanders-McMurtry will be joining Mount Holyoke College on Aug. 6 from Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia, where she has served as the associate vice president and dean for community diversity since July 2016.
“One of the biggest things she’s done [at Agnes Scott] is bring a sense of reconciliation and community to people who don’t always talk to one another,” said Dorothy E. Mosby, Associate Dean of Faculty and chair of the search committee. Mosby expressed confidence that Sanders-McMurtry will be able to “transfer that here for the rest of the community.”
The Chief Diversity Officer role is new to Mount Holyoke, and will allow her to have flexibility in her approach to developing programming and training for faculty, students and staff.
“My focus will be on providing strategic leadership in diversity, equity and inclusion as a member of the presidential cabinet, but I honestly see this as something that should be grassroots,” said Sanders-McMurtry. “I have high hopes. I am deeply committed to ensuring that diversity efforts touch every corner of the community so that when we use the term staff, we are inclusive of people at every level. I am as concerned with the needs of those who serve in hidden roles behind the scenes.”
Mosby explained that the need for a Chief Diversity Officer on campus stemmed from three major developments that have taken place over the past few years: conversions starting as peer institutions have signed on diversity officers, feedback from the BOOM! conference and looking at past efforts by the College to enhance diversity and inclusion.
“The times demand it, by looking at the shifting demographics on college campuses and also looking around at who’s doing what on campus,” said Mosby. “Diversity is dispersed but there’s no real accountability structure. This will help us have greater visibility and clarity when we talk about how we are improving diversity and inclusion.”
An executive search was held to find those best suited to Mount Holyoke’s environment and whose skills would best contribute to the community. Databases of people already known to the College were combed, extensive networking took place and recommendations were received all by the search committee until they had narrowed the long list down to seven candidates.
“It’s always a hard process,” said Mosby. “But we have to think about a few things as we make our decision. We had a lot of conversations. We had to look at where we are now and where we want to be and of the people who came to campus who were best suited to help us get to where we want to be.”
First interviews were held with these seven people and the search committee discussed who they wanted to come to campus to meet with different campus constituents. From there, four were selected to come to campus and gave presentations to the community. After assessing feedback from faculty, staff, students and college officers, the search committee submitted their recommendations to Acting President Sonya Stephens, who approved the decision.
The involved selection process is something that stood out to Sanders-McMurtry. “I was inspired by the fact that it was apparent that the campus community worked in tandem with one another, but in particular that the movement was led by students who believed deeply in the need for a Chief Diversity Officer at the executive level,” she said.
Sanders-McMurtry will be on campus next week and is excited about getting to know members of the campus community. “I am drawn to the spirit and tenacity of Lyons everywhere. Mount Holyoke College is such a beautiful, historic place with rich traditions,” she said, “yet there is untapped potential in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion.”