The Diversity Center undergoes staffing changes. Collegian file photo.
JESSICA LEE | EDITOR-IN-CHIEF | firstname.lastname@example.org
March 6 will be Thalia Anguiano’s last day at Butler University.
The assistant director of multicultural programs and services emailed student leaders in the Diversity Center on Feb. 12 telling them she will be leaving Butler. She has taken a job in Chicago helping students enroll in high school. Anguiano is from the Chicagoland area and still has family and a support system there, which she said was a factor in her moving.
However, Anguiano said she intentionally chose a role outside of a university setting due to personal experiences as an undergraduate and graduate student — but also because of the recent staff change in the Diversity Center.
“The staff change that we had back in November wasn’t the easiest to navigate through, especially for myself being a young professional that’s new to the field of higher education,” Anguiano said.
In November 2019, Tiffany Reed, director of multicultural programs and services, was terminated by the university after only being hired in June 2019.
Anguiano and Gina Forrest, executive director of diversity, equity and inclusion, split Reed’s responsibilities between the two of them.
Forrest will now take on Reed’s and Anguiano’s responsibilities.
“I will handle them the best I can,” Forrest said. “I’m hoping that I have built relationships with of course, the people in my division but of course outside of my division, that they can be patient with me and they’ll know that I’m going from a team of three to a team of one, and that I might not be able to do maybe everything that I said I was going to do in these next few weeks.”
The university’s Department of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which is housed in the Diversity Center, has gone through several changes not just in November, but in the past year as a whole.
Last January, student leaders were left with the responsibilities of running the Diversity Center when Valerie Davidson, former director of diversity programs and the Diversity Center, retired at the end of 2018. It was not until February 2019 that Forrest was named interim director to replace Davidson.
In April 2019, three new positions were created under diversity, equity and inclusion: executive director, director of multicultural programs and services, and assistant director of multicultural programs and services. Forrest became the executive director and the university hired Reed as the director of multicultural programs and services, and Anguiano as her assistant.
Reed was one of the main reasons Anguiano came to Butler, and she helped guide Anguiano in her first job after graduate school — however Anguiano said she still does not know why Reed was let go.
Anguiano said it was shocking, that suddenly, her immediate support was no longer there.
In the months that followed, she helped students in the Diversity Center cope with that change.
“Like how do you — how do I myself be strong and try to take care of myself, so that I can come and take care and help the students be strong and build them up as much as I can, too?” Anguiano said. “So it was kind of like, no one had passed away, but it felt like we were going through a grieving process here in the DC.”
Anguiano does not believe Butler has a top-down approach — meaning that those in administration do not lead the conversation or act first — when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion.
Frank Ross, vice president of student affairs, said going from one role to three in the Diversity Center — in creating a Department for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion — is a “tremendous sign” of the university’s commitment to its cause.
But now the department is back to one person.
Moving forward, Anguiano said she hopes the university sets concrete programs or initiatives to support faculty and staff who come from traditionally marginalized and oppressed identities.
“We cannot fully support diversity, equity, inclusion efforts in higher education until we figure out internally what do we need to do to support those who are oppressed and marginalized across our faculty and staff members,” Anguiano said. “And up until the creation of this department, I don’t know what Butler was doing to do that.”
So why not stay?
Anguiano said she battled with this a lot: does she stay and continue to fight the fight here at Butler? Try to make systematic changes, positive changes, for the students?
“Because if it’s not myself and Gina, then who is it on campus?” Anguiano asked.
The back and forth continued: what further sacrifices, though, will she be making toward that fight? Wellness, mental health — was it worth it?
“I could stay and I could, you know, continue to do this work, but I know that at some point, I just envisioned myself just getting burnt out, and I don’t want to get burnt out at the age of 25,” Anguiano said. “I just started this career seven months ago, I know that I have a life ahead of me with a lot of things that I want to do and and be successful. And I can’t do that when my battery is just completely out.”
Because Anguiano’s other option is something that she has been passionate about for a long time: urban educational access. It’s Chicago: her home with family and friends, a racially diverse city.
Throughout her seven months at Butler, Anguiano said she has not seen a lot of faculty or staff who look like her. Anguiano said race and ethnicity is easy to use as an example, because most of the time it’s an external minority group identifier.
Anguiano said she, Reed and Forrest — all women of color — have experienced microaggressions, or subtle, and perhaps unintentional, discrimination against them at Butler.
“So if we can’t show our students that we are supporting staff members and faculty from marginalized groups, that the institution supports them, how do our students expect the institution to support the students?” Anguiano said.
According to Butler’s most recent Common Data Set survey from the 2018-19 academic year, 51 out of 377 full-time instructional faculty identify themselves as members of minority groups. From 2016 to 2018, there has been a 3% increase in minority full-time faculty members. The survey defined minority faculty as black, non-Hispanic; American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, or Hispanic.
Anguiano said retaining staff from marginalized groups is a problem in higher education as a whole. At Butler, she said from her perspective and the students she has interacted with, it creates a lack of trust between students of marginalized groups and the university — especially if students cannot see outside identifiers like race and ethnicity reflected in their faculty and staff.
Aine Montgomery, director of the diversity, equity and inclusion board of SGA, does not frequent the Diversity Center as much as she used to, but she now holds office hours and works there in her SGA role.
Montgomery, a junior psychology major, said she has two perspectives: one, as the SGA director who was involved in hiring Forrest, Reed and Anguiano; and two, as a student who has seen many changes to the Diversity Center throughout her three years.
When she read the email that Anguiano was leaving, Montgomery was not shocked. She figured if that was the best for Anguiano personally and professionally, then, yes, she should take that opportunity and go.
“I understand that that’s how it works sometimes,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery said she is used to the Diversity Center being a one-woman show, so for her, there are not going to be many changes to the internal atmosphere of the space.
The Diversity Center, housed in Atherton Union 004, serves first and foremost as a safe space for students who would not feel safe in other areas on campus, Montgomery said.
Aniyah Coles, a junior Spanish major, said she only started going to the Diversity Center occasionally last year and now, she goes almost every day. Before that, she would go home a lot because her family lived close and she felt she had nowhere else to go. She likes how it’s a good place to do homework, how there are talks held in the space, how people can come together and talk about issues on campus. She likes how she has a place to go.
“Minorities gather here,” Coles said. “We can relate to each other the way we may not be able to with the majority of students here…You come here and see people that look like yourself.”
Montgomery said the students there are used to “rolling with the punches” regarding staff changes.
“My first year when I would hang out in there, it was very little of actually interacting with the staff in there, and [more of] interacting with the other students that inhabit in the space and that changes less frequently than people in charge of the space,” Montgomery said.
The new staff changes, and not knowing exactly how those positions are going to be filled, are not inherently good, Montgomery said.
“I understand that it happens, but just because I understand that it happens doesn’t mean that it should be happening,” Montgomery said.
It is not everybody’s job to have that diversity, equity and inclusion lens, Montgomery said, but it is important to have a department whose purpose is to have that lens, and encourage and educate others as well.
“I feel like DEI needs to be at the forefront of every single aspect of this university,” Montgomery said.
Before this year, Montgomery felt like the university did not have an approach to diversity, equity and inclusion at all.
Now, with the creation of the Department of Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity, there is an external factor to the Diversity Center. Not only is there a space for students to gather, but the space also houses organizations and a department that is in charge of educating the rest of campus on topics like diversity and equality. There is an outreach component, such as Sustained Dialogues, an initiative both Montgomery and Ross pointed to as good changes.
“You kind of have to have a ‘both-and’ approach — looking at what are the internal programming and support that you offer within the Diversity Center and making sure it’s a safe space, but then also making sure that you’re bringing programs and training to the rest of the campus community and having that extra external outreach,” Ross said.
Ross, who will meet with each applicant, said it is important to stress both the internal and external factors in the job descriptions and interview.
“Because you put that language in there,” Ross said. “I think it’s important when you have candidates come to campus, that you have specific targeted questions that ask about their experience in certain things.”
Candidates looking at the positions should have a strong commitment toward diversity, equity and inclusion, an enthusiasm to work with students, and are good collaborators with a positive attitude.
“I also want to make sure folks realize, too, that it’s the responsibility of all of our offices to help create an intentionally inclusive environment where our students can be successful,” Ross said.
The importance in retaining staff, then, is being upfront about the positions’ responsibilities and expectations, and also making sure it is a good fit for the candidate personally and professionally, Ross said.
Anguiano said her last date was chosen strategically. It is the Friday before spring break, which will hopefully give students more time to process and come back recharged. While her circumstances are different than Reed’s, Anguiano said students in the Diversity Center have already shown their strength, resilience and level of empowerment together.
“But just make sure that they recognize that they are powerful, and they have a voice on campus and to not let this be the reason why they don’t continue to exercise their advocacy,” Anguiano said.
William Blakely, a sophomore sports media major, goes to the Diversity Center every day. When he heard Anguiano was leaving, he was shocked.
“I got a little sad inside because Thalia was a big part of me coming here, to the Diversity Center,” Blakely said. “She really helped make a lot of changes to this place. She really is someone that cares about the students. She’s someone that — she loves everyone, she just wants the best for everyone.”
Blakley was able to go to Anguiano’s office whenever he had concerns, whenever he accomplished something, whenever he needed advice — Anguiano was there. She was not just a listening ear, either, but helped open an opportunity for him.
Anguiano received a call asking if she knew anybody who identified as African American, was a sports media major and could speak about their experience at a Black History Month event.
“I’m very big on being able to be intentional with giving students who aren’t often given opportunities like that…to students who would be good fits and would be appropriate for them to go and experience that,” Anguiano said, adding that Blakely is a wonderful leader.
Blakely said he never thought he would have had an opportunity like that if not for her.
“So it just means a lot,” Blakely said.
Blakely said the person to replace Anguiano should have her same attitude and ability to create a friendly, safe environment.
The Office of Student Affairs is still reviewing the job descriptions before they post them; Ross said they are using this opportunity to evaluate the jobs and see if any of the needs of the students in the space have changed since last year. They are hoping to fill both the director and assistant of multicultural programs and services by July.