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Search narrows for Chief Diversity Officer

By Hannah Schuster and Elianna Spitzer

Section: News

September 9, 2016

Brandeis is implementing new diversity training sessions and continuing the search for a Chief Diversity Officer, according to an email to the student body on Aug. 29. These changes arose from demands made by students and faculty in the Ford Hall movement last year. 

The CDO will be responsible for centralizing diversity efforts across campus departments, developing training programs and having a “strong presence” on campus as they take concrete steps to improve the university, according to the job posting for the CDO. 

“This, of course, includes working with many across the campus to reach the goals of the Implementation Plan for Diversity and Inclusion,” said President Ron Liebowitz in an email to The Brandeis Hoot. 

Across the country, colleges have hired 75 chief diversity officers in about 18 months, according to Archie Ervin, president of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education. The search committee at Brandeis evaluated 56 candidates, interviewed seven in person and invited the final four to campus. The committee is composed of faculty, administrators, a member of the Board of Trustees as well as two undergraduate students and two graduate students.

The candidates will meet with interested students throughout September. They will talk about his or her background, “but the bulk of the time will be devoted to questions from the audience,” according to a campus-wide email from Kid Godsoe, the associate provost for Academic Affairs. 

All the candidates have prior experience as a CDO, and the candidates have also “given talks, published books, worked on the university level, directed centers for diversity in different areas, etc.,” said Danni Tang ’19, a member of the search committee, “They’re versatile people, having worked in departments from Admissions to Student Affairs to Title IX investigations to consulting work to formal university CDO roles.” 

Each member was responsible for a different question, according to Tang. They wanted to know how applicants would work with members of the Brandeis community, from students to Trustees. “[W]e asked about the experience our candidates had with Title IX, their thoughts on the national rise of campus activism around diversity and frameworks to attract more diverse student, faculty and staff who will stay for the long-run,” said Tang. “Other committee members will have different thoughts on this, but for me, the most interesting question to hear an answer to was what the candidate would have done if they were CDO during Ford Hall 2015 last year. It showcased their leadership styles and their approaches to creating relationships and listening to students.”

The committee narrowed the pool of candidates based on what Tang referred to as the “Brandeis fit,” and how they would translate their experience to serve this school. Their answers revealed how their skills and leadership styles may or may not be a match for our campus, according to Tang. 

Brandeis has also been implementing new training. There are two mandatory diversity and inclusion training components on campus: a Title IX online program and an orientation session for new faculty members, run by Prof. Harleen Singh (GRAL/SAS/WMGS), according to an email from Provost Lisa Lynch. Staff and faculty respectively now have the the option of attending three diversity and inclusion training workshops in the fall semester. 

The faculty trainings will focus on building an inclusive classroom environment while staff trainings will promote understanding and prevention of instances of bias, according to Lynch. “These are not mandatory sessions but there has been great interest thus far by staff and faculty,” wrote Lynch in an email to The Hoot.

The Heller School for Social Policy and Management conducted two half-day trainings over the summer with an attendance of over 50 individuals, including faculty, administrative staff and program directors, according to Lynch. The workshops “focused on how the Heller School can be more intentional and effective in providing a welcoming environment for our diverse community,” she wrote.

A new program from the Provost’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Steering (DEIS) Committee and the Dean of Arts and Sciences secures funding for departmental events that promote diversity and inclusion. 

“Over the summer, departments applied for this funding and projects range from how to create more inclusive class content to having notable speakers to campus,” said Daniel Bergstresser, associate professor at the Brandeis International Business School and member of the DEIS Committee in an email to The Hoot. Eleven projects were selected and funded.

The committee has been discussing the search for a CDO and trainings and has “surveyed departments about courses and the degree to which each department has courses that address issues of diversity,” wrote Bergstresser. 

The university is reexamining its general education requirements this year as part of its decennial reaccreditation process, and a Task Force on General Education is also examining ways to incorporate “requirements that address issues of race, equity and inclusion,” according to Susan Birren, the dean of Arts and Sciences. 

The university is also creating a mentoring program for junior faculty and will be implemented in the College of Arts and Science, the Heller School and the International Business School this fall. 

The diversity of the student body is increasing, according to Liebowitz. This year, “Students who self-identified as Hispanic or Latino increased by 10 percent over the previous year, while students who self-identified as black or African-American increased by 20 percent,” he announced.

Of the 844 first-years, 19 percent identify as nonresident alien, 13 percent of students identify as Asian, five percent identify as black and nine percent identify as Hispanic, according to data from Jennifer Walker, the dean of Admissions. 

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences also unveiled a new scholarship for graduate students: the Diversity, Excellence and Inclusion Scholarship, or DEIS Scholarship. This year’s students are African-American, Hispanic and first-generation college students studying topics ranging from classics to history to musicology. They receive tuition plus a $10,000 stipend, according to a Brandeis webpage. 

In regard to recruitment of staff, Salah M. Hassan, a scholar who specializes in “contemporary African and African-diaspora art and culture,” has been recruited to teach at Brandeis this year, serving as the Madeleine Hass Russell Visiting Professor in African and Afro-American Studies (AAAS). Hassan is also a professor at Cornell University, and after this year, he will join the Brandeis AAAS and Fine Arts faculty, “holding appointments at Brandeis and Cornell.” 

Hassan is a founder and editor of “Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art,” and has written additional books and articles in this field, according to a Brandeis biography. The journal, published twice annually, seeks to bring attention to contemporary African and diaspora arts, something that is neglected in other mainstream art publications, according to the Nka website. He has curated exhibits around the world and received grants from organizations such as the Andy Warhol Foundation. 

Hassan will give a lecture at Brandeis this November titled Contemporary African Art as a Paradox: Is “Afropolitan” the Answer? as part of the Art, Race, Activism series that brought musician and activist KRS-One to campus last fall.

The DEIS committee has also created “a sub-committee on staff excellence” to focus on recruitment, training and retention, according to Bergstresser. “My sense is that recruitment and retention are both extremely important—you can recruit the best staff in the world, but you need to retain them as well.”

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