Q&A with new Diversity Center director Randall Ojeda

Randall Ojeda shares how he will approach the directorship and what he brings to the Diversity Center. Graphic by Emma Nobbe.

GABI MORANDO | STAFF REPORTER | gmorando@butler.edu

Randall Ojeda will start his new role as the director of the Efroymson Diversity Center on Oct. 18. Ojeda graduated from Butler in 2018 with a master’s degree in school counseling, and he will be transitioning from his previous role as vice president of residential services for Children’s Bureau Inc. in Indianapolis to serve Butler students. 

Ojeda’s appointment to this role comes after the resignation of former director Gina Forrest.  Ojeda said he plans to unite the university by creating a safe and celebrative community for all students. 

The Butler Collegian: How did you hear about the job and what drew you to apply for the position?

Randall Ojeda: I’m always supporting Butler and interested in what’s going on at Butler, so I’m always looking around to see what’s happening. I saw that the position was open, and I just read about it to learn a little more about the Diversity Center in general and what they were looking for. So I sent in an application and since then, I’ve had a few good conversations with Student Affairs. I’m excited about it. It’s been probably a three or four month process from when I originally applied. 

TBC: What experience do you have working in DEI?

RO: A question similar to that was asked during my interview process, and as a man of color, a gay man, as a Christian, a person from the South who now lives in the Midwest, diversity is my life in a lot of ways. Being in environments where I am oftentimes not in the majority group has really prepared me to understand that experience for people, and so I think that is one element that I bring to the role. That’s gonna be really exciting to provide that perspective for students, which really gets me excited and pumped up to be there for students because that’s so important. Also at Children’s Bureau, the organization I work for now, I lead our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee… where we work on strategic planning and make initiatives throughout the agency and community for how we can be, as an agency and a community, more diverse and equitable and inclusive. That’s sorta been my [knack] for a while there, which has been amazing and I’ve really enjoyed [it], so I know that’s gonna translate here as well. 

TBC: What experience do you have working with college students?

RO: I graduated from grad school [at Butler] in 2018. I went to Carson-Newman University in East Tennessee, and we were actually a pretty small campus of 2,900 students, so smaller than Butler. I experienced the smaller town, smaller university feel as a student, and was really involved in student affairs and really got an understanding of how the college student experience prepares you for the transition to independent adulthood. I said ‘Yes’ to every club and organization I could because it meant a lot to me to invest in my campus, and that gave me a lot of experience in preparing for my career. I currently work with kids. A lot of folks who work with young people always talk about how they’ve worked with young people since they were a young person, and that’s been my story as well. Even as a college student, I was working with my peers and leading groups there. [I have] since worked with zero to 18 year olds. College students specifically have never been my career path, so higher education is a different field for me, but there are so many parallels from my experience as a college student to the work that I’ve done since that I think are going to be a really good fit for me in this role. 

TBC: What are your goals during your time here at Butler?

RO: I think it’s really important to me for all students to feel that this campus and this culture is a place where you can be your true, authentic self, while being respectful and empathetic to others. That’s huge for me. I also think for the Diversity Center itself, if we could establish an environment that is both safe and brave for people to explore and ask questions about the world. A place to grow and learn and recognize that we don’t have all the answers and together we’re gonna sit in that and figure out what we can do to further invest in what comes next. I also think this should be a place of celebration. How do we just enjoy, especially for underrepresented groups, where we’ve come from, where we are, where we wanna be? How do we celebrate ourselves and other people in the Diversity Center itself and around the campus at large? Investing in individuals as well as the Diversity Center at large I think is big, and I think there’s a third category if you will, of being a part of the strategic plan for the university as it relates to DEI, which hopefully ties into all the things we’re doing on campus, not just in the Diversity Center. So all those things, [helping] students individually, students collectively — especially in underrepresented groups — and the campus at large. 

TBC: There has been a lot of turnover in the Diversity Center over the last few years.  What will set you apart from those who have previously held this role?

RO: I’m a loyalist. I don’t know those folks who are no longer there, so I don’t know what their needs or issues were at the time, but I’m the kind of person who likes to invest in what I’m doing. I want to understand it. I want to influence and impact it in every way that I can, and I’m not afraid of a challenge, but I’m also not afraid to fail. In my work that I do right now, it’s with young folks who have experienced hardships and challenges in their families, and all of them have been abused or neglected in some way, so all of my work is with folks who sit on the outskirts of society and who have been through some really challenging things, and so I’m not afraid to sit right in the middle of that with them and learn from them and with them and support them in whatever challenges they’re going through. I feel really prepared to take on whatever challenges come that way in the Diversity Center. I love Butler. I love students. I think something I’ve learned being out in the field, as I employ folks who, some of them have college educations, and others don’t, is that I can see the difference. I want to keep pushing that message forward of why the college experience is so wonderful and why it can really impact your life, not just while you’re here, but when you’re graduated — how this can prepare you for your career and for your life or whatever comes next for you. I know that that’s something that will drive me even if I’m exhausted and overwhelmed. I can still do that. 

TBC: As a leader, what do you believe is your greatest strength?

RO: I’m gonna go with empathy. I’m a really big fan of meeting people exactly where they are and letting that be okay. In a lot of environments, you’re told whether directly or indirectly that it’s not okay to feel blank, like you can’t be disappointed or worried or sad or angry even. I try to start with where you are is okay, and let’s think about that, acknowledge that, and validate that while we talk about what comes next for you as an individual and for whatever groups you’re a part of. I think that’s something, in my leadership style, I really try to invest in — making sure people know that it is okay to be who you are, and not only are we gonna accept you for that, we’re gonna celebrate you for that. I’m excited to do that for students and help them understand that not only can they do that for themselves but provide that to others whether they’re here on campus or in their careers or families, wherever that comes to them. 

TBC: As a leader, where can you improve?

RO: So many places, and that’s true of all of us. In this role specifically, I think what’s so important is to learn the culture, and that’s something that, as a graduate student, I had and have had. It’s also been years, so I don’t have that piece. I think naturally, what is probably my greatest challenge coming into this role, is learning the environment and investing in that without coming in saying, ‘This is what we’re gonna do, here’s my plan,’ I’d rather say ‘What’s happening? What are the goals, and how do we tap into those goals, and how can I give my energy to make sure we can acquire resources to facilitate those goals coming true?’  

TBC: As a grad student at Butler, how do you think your time here prepared you for this role?

RO: So many ways. Just being on the campus and being acclimated with the way of campus, even though most of my classes were Monday nights or on the weekends. I missed all the exciting things that probably happened on campus, but also the professors were phenomenal. I had three primary professors that I worked with, and they really exemplified everything I know about Butler as far as it being an inclusive space. I think that’s something I look forward to furthering. When I am exhausted and overwhelmed and don’t know what I’m doing or need support, I definitely can call those folks, and I have. I think that’s something I hope to be for students as well when they’re in need or even when they just want to celebrate or share important updates. I’m someone they can come to because my professors demonstrated that for me. I’m excited to be that person for them. 

TBC: If you could describe yourself in three words, what would they be and why? 

RO: I think one of them is person-centered. We talked about the word empathy a little already, so someone recently told me, ‘Randall you do a really great job of making the person you’re with feel like the most special person in your life,’ which was shocking to hear, but also an amazing message to be reverted back to me, because it is a life goal of mine to really help people tap into their own unique potential. If I can invest anything I’ve got into helping people, I do that. I feel like my life has had meaning, and that’s my mission in the world. Person-centered is huge for me. I’m not one to be very patient. I love to figure out what it takes to do something, and then, hit it pretty hard and make it happen, so I love finding ways to cut through red tape and figuring out how to impact a community or group or family or individual, and I’m not really afraid to find what that takes and then do it. I’m very passionate. Also, this isn’t a word, but constant-learner if you will? I love to recognize what I don’t know and to find my blindspots and to say out loud ‘This is a blindspot for me, and I need to read a book or listen to a podcast or spend time with a group or a person to really understand this.’ It excites me to recognize that I don’t have all the answers, and I’m going to figure them out if I need to, but I don’t have all the answers, and that’s okay. I want to always keep learning. 

TBC: What piece of advice would you give to your college self?

RO: I think the advice I would give myself is two-fold. I think the first part of it would be to keep saying ‘yes’ to things that challenge you. Someone told me ‘Raise your hand for the things that maybe don’t feel natural or comfortable for you.’ That’s something I’m so glad I did because I learned a lot about community groups that were different than me and experiences that were different from the ones I’ve had, and so signing up for things that challenge you. I think that’s one thing I would keep saying. Be bold in doing that. I think the other piece of advice would be to be your authentic self. We are all humans, not just college students or young people, walking around with insecurities and fears and anxieties and that message that someone is judging you or is going to potentially hurt you if you are your truest self. What I’ve learned as an adult is that there is truth to that. That is absolutely the case, that not everyone is there to support you, but when you are your truest self, and people support you and love you and cheer for you, you find some of the best joy in the world. So, I think if I could tell myself anything at the time, it would be to be honest about the anxieties, those fears and those worries, while stepping into who you really are because the people that love you are going to keep loving you, and you’ll see that when you give them who you really are. 

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

 

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