Ojeda brings students to Harrison State Park for a community-building retreat. Photo courtesy of Randall Ojeda.
ALISON MICCOLIS | NEWS EDITOR | email@example.com
When Randall Ojeda assumed the role as director of the Efroymson Diversity Center on Oct. 18, he was stepping into a space that had seen a lot of turnover the past couple of years. Having started the academic year without a full-time employee in the space, Ojeda knew it was the students who were keeping the Center alive.
Ojeda said when he started as director, he understood his main role was to support and advocate for the needs of those students. He also said it was important to prioritize learning the history and culture of the Diversity Center.
“One of the beautiful things about coming into a new job is learning all the ins and outs of that environment,” Ojeda said. “And so it was important to me in coming into this role to really learn about the history of the Diversity Center, as well as the stakeholders on campus that have a connection to it, which is everyone, but the folks who maybe have had some involvement in the past or who have an interest in involvement currently or potentially in the future.”
Over the past three months, Ojeda said he has been working on a three-phase plan to build community within the Diversity Center and with the broader campus community.
The first phase was getting to know people. Ojeda said this included fellow members of the President’s Council for DEI, the DEI directors for each college and members of the seven student organizations that operate out of the Diversity Center.
When he met with the different student organizations, Ojeda said it was important to listen to their respective goals and needs. He said some groups just wanted to learn more about him and his vision for the Center, while others needed help managing budgets and improving budget proposals.
“One of the things I recognize is that I could come here and just start doing stuff, and things that are positive,” Ojeda said. “However, if it’s not really tied to a strategy or a goal or clear vision, it can be somewhat fruitless at the end of it all. So it’s important to me to take some time to learn about the orgs, the students, the stakeholders and see what we can do to make an impact there.”
Marcos Navarro-Garcia, a senior critical communication and media studies and Spanish double major, took over some of the unfulfilled responsibilities when the Diversity Center was without a director. He said having a full-time, professional employee in the Center has made a world of a difference and they now have the bandwidth to support more students.
In addition to providing support for students, Navarro-Garcia said Ojeda is a people person and he came in with a new perspective that students appreciated.
“I also think Randall has definitely been authentically himself since coming here and I think the students have, for the most part, gravitated towards that,” Navarro-Garcia said. “[They] definitely have taken a liking to him and seem to trust him and his ability to advocate for all of us.”
First-year biology major Jaedyn Davis is a member of three different organizations in the Diversity Center. She said in addition to all of the work Ojeda is doing in the Center, she appreciates how he is available to students if they just want to talk.
“I enjoy how he is easy to talk to,” Davis said. “He listens to everything I say, even though it be a little crazy sometimes, I’m not gonna lie. I just like that about him.”
Ojeda said he is now in phase two of his plan, which is focused on using the information he learned in phase one to make connections and create a shared vision for the Diversity Center.
To help facilitate making those connections, Ojeda brought 33 students on a retreat to Harrison State Park earlier this month. They reserved a large meeting space as well as five houses for the two and a half day stay. Ojeda said one of his main goals for the trip was to bring students together.
“One of the things I kind of heard overwhelmingly is due to the pandemic and due to upheaval, racial upheaval, and frustrations and concerns and significant debates that have just occured on this campus in the past couple of years, there’s just been a lot of disconnection,” Ojeda said. “Disconnectedness with students and an understanding of those pieces that unite us and so it was really important to me to get folks in the room who don’t necessarily know each other or work together in any clubs and orgs but all have a shared vision to further the mission of marginalized groups.”
Another goal of the retreat was to provide students with an opportunity to share their vision for the Diversity Center and how they see that vision being executed on campus.
Ojeda said once a shared vision and mission is agreed upon, phase three consists of implementing that mission.
Moving forward into the spring semester, Ojeda hopes to work on defining what diversity, equity and inclusion means for Butler’s campus.
“I think there are a lot of individual stakeholders from all different sides of the conversation that have a definition for it in their head that may look different than how some others define it,” Ojeda said. “So I think it’s important for us to say, ‘This is what we mean when we say the word equity on Butler’s campus’ and once we are able to define that, people can rally around that definition and really understand, okay, this is who we are.”
Another goal for this semester is to expand the team of leaders in the Diversity Center.
Associate history professor Antwain Hunter now serves as a faculty fellow. Navarro-Garcia said Hunter is able to act as a representative from the Academic Affairs side of things and help students academically. This could include finding guest speakers or getting events approved as BCRs. He said Hunter is in the Center a few times a week and that he attended the recent retreat.
Additionally, Ojeda said one candidate has already been interviewed for the assistant director position and that a second candidate will be interviewed on Thursday, Jan. 27. Similarly to when the first candidate visited, the second candidate will lead a training that Butler students, faculty and staff can participate in. After the training there will be an open session in the Diversity Center for any student to meet the candidate, ask questions and fill out a survey with feedback.
Ojeda said once an assistant director is hired, it will be easier to carry out the Center’s mission.
“It’s hard to even create a vision without all the players but also hard to implement that without all the players,” Ojeda said. “So if we can finalize our staff, then we can really keep pushing towards that vision.”
While the Diversity Center looks to grow its team of professionals, Navarro-Garcia said one of the most rewarding parts of Ojeda’s first three months as director has been a sense of commitment and stability.
“I think Randall is here to stay for quite some time, and I feel like other people feel that too,” Navarro-Garcia said. “I think this is a new chapter in his career that he really, really wants to explore and grow in, and so I think he’s gonna be here for a while. And that’s exactly what the space needs is like, somebody to be here for a while. And I’m just relieved, I don’t feel pressure for that person to be me anymore.”