Chief Diversity Officer search continues

Collegian file photo.

ISAIAH STRONG | STAFF REPORTER | istrong@butler.edu

Butler recently created the position of chief diversity officer in an effort to aid diversity related issues on campus and is now interviewing candidates for the role.

There are three candidates being considered for the position: Dana Patterson, Alphonso Atkins and Kaamilyah Abdullah-Span. Each candidate was brought in for interviewing and participated in open forums in the Diversity Center that were available to students, faculty and staff.

The creation of the chief diversity officer position, as well as the search for the potential new hire, is being led by James Gallaher, vice president for human resources, diversity and wellness. Gallaher started working at Butler in November 2015, focusing on employee relations, progressing the university in terms of diversity and maintaining the different factors affecting wellness on campus.

Gallaher said the position was created because “we need someone to make sure we are moving forward with diversity on this campus.”

While Gallaher works on diversity-related issues, due to the broad scope of his responsibilities Gallaher thought it would be beneficial to bring in an individual who can focus specifically on diversity and making Butler the most welcoming place possible for all types of students.

An administrative position focused specifically on diversity is not uncommon in post-secondary institutions. Xavier University’s institutional diversity and inclusion office was created in 2005 and is currently led by Janice Walker, their chief diversity and inclusion officer. At Providence College the same role is filled by Rafael Zapata, who has worked with the university since 2012.

The new position will come with a host of responsibilities: coordinating Title IX issues, leading the Diversity Council, and training faculty and staff about diversity and inclusion. Gallaher said the chief diversity officer will also include work with diverse student organizations on campus to respond to student needs and create programs.

While this position entails a lot of responsibilities those involved in the process such as Terri Jett, special assistant to the provost for diversity and inclusion, said the chief diversity officer is a necessary part of a larger effort to make campus as inclusive as possible.

“I do not expect one individual to take on this alone because it is something that we are all responsible for,” she said. “But I am hopeful that this position will serve as a central location for at least knowing what is going on across campus — something we do not have at the moment.”

According to the official job description, the new chief diversity officer will “provide expertise, leadership and collaboration on diversity equity, inclusion and Title IX in all areas of campus life.”

Particularly important will be absorbing certain responsibilities of the Title IX coordinator, recently vacated as the former coordinator Stacie Colston Patterson no longer works with the university.

As of now, Gallaher has taken on the role of Title IX Coordinator, but that title will be given to the incoming chief diversity officer. The university will still look to hire another faculty member dedicated towards focusing on Title IX issues, but that position will now be called “Deputy Title IX Coordinator”.

The Title IX office is responsible for complying with the federal law and creating an environment free of discrimination based on sex at the university. This includes investigation of alleged sexual harassment or assault and the creation of programming to raise awareness of sexual discrimination issues.

Someone who can focus on Title IX issues, such as sexual assault, remains a priority for Gallaher and university leadership.

“We need someone that that’s their job to make sure we’re doing good things around sexual assault,” he said. “That shouldn’t be part of a job, it needs to be a job.”

The interviewing process has been administered by an eight-person committee under the leadership of Gallaher. The committee is comprised of students, faculty and staff based upon recommendations received by Gallaher from university leadership.

Jett, a member of the interview committee, mentioned that the committee hopes to see the position filled by a candidate with the experience and background to support the Butler faculty that have been working on issues of diversity in the past few years.

“Personally I am looking for someone that I can also learn from in my capacity as special assistant to the provost for diversity and inclusivity,” she said. “And who would also welcome my support in their efforts.”

Students are taking notice of the potential impact of the new hire too. Samreen Uzzama, a senior biology and Spanish major, is involved in various organizations relating to diversity on campus. As a member of SGA’s Diversity and Inclusion Board as well as the Muslim Student Association, she said she hopes to see the new position bring a fresh perspective on diversity at Butler.

“I’m hoping that the chief diversity officer will bring a voice to the students who feel underrepresented,” she said. “The officer would promote a new way of looking at diversity on campus rather than focusing on the already established rhetoric of campus.”

Gallaher said he thinks the position of chief diversity officer could prove beneficial for the university.

“We need someone focused on diversity and improving diversity on this campus,” Gallaher said. “It would really make Butler a more welcome place for all faculty, staff and students.”

The university hopes to have a candidate hired by the start of the summer. That way the new chief diversity officer can adequately familiarize themselves with campus and have enough time to prepare for the 2017-18 school year.

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