UMW is in the process of selecting a new Associate Provost/Chief Diversity Officer (CDO). The primary goal of the Chief Diversity Officer will be to work towards greater diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) at UMW.
Amy O’Reilly asked students through email to submit evaluations of the four candidates for chief diversity officer by Monday, Sept. 20. The new Chief Diversity Officer will be announced within the next few weeks, according to Dr. Anand Rao, chair of the Department of Communication and Digital Studies and co-chair of the Associate Provost/Chief Diversity Officer search.
“We interviewed our finalists on campus last week and have moved to the next stage of the search process,” he said. “We will have to wait until we hear from the Provost’s Office for next steps. Hopefully we will have an announcement in the coming weeks.”
Dr. Rita Dunston is also the co-chair of the Associate Provost/Chief Diversity Officer Search.
“The Chief Diversity Officer will ensure Diversity, Equity and Inclusion practices are prioritized and executed on campus,” she said. “Serving as a diversity champion, the Chief Diversity Officer will have responsibility for guiding efforts to infuse and cultivate diversity into the university community to enact authentic institutional change.”
Beginning on Monday, Sept. 13, four finalists delivered a brief presentation in Dodd Auditorium. All candidates were asked to respond to this prompt: “Please share your vision for diversity, equity and inclusion at UMW, and what would you aim to accomplish in one year, three years, and five years?”
The first finalist for Associate Provost/Chief Diversity Officer at UMW is Dr. Jonathan Wesley. He has a background in diversity, equity and inclusion as the current senior director of equity and inclusion and academic affairs at Southern New Hampshire University. Wesley began his presentation by presenting his five-year plan for the university, and suggested implementing an inclusive leadership badge. This badge would aim to improve the diversity, equity and inclusion within the university and would act as a requirement for all faculty and staff.
“The work of D [diversity] is not solely naming identities, nor a simple check within the box,” read one of Wesley’s powerpoint slides at the presentation. “DEI is soul work. When the work transforms you (individual), it will cause a transformation within us (institution)!”
On Tuesday, Sept. 14, the second finalist delivered her presentation. Dr. Shavonne Shorter currently serves as an associate professor of communication and a special assistant to the president for diversity, equity and inclusion at Bloomberg University. Shorter explained what her goals would be as UMW’s chief diversity officer.
“What I really want you to know about me is that I’m a person who values diversity, equity and inclusion and knows firsthand how these experiences enhance our professional and personal sense of development.” she said. “Without programs, such as the McNair Scholars Program that many of you all may be familiar with, which is a program geared towards getting minority individuals into graduate education and then going on to become a professor, I wouldn’t be here with you today.”
On Wednesday, Sept. 15, UMW met their third finalist: Fredericksburg-native Dr. Kimberly Holmes. She serves as an associate dean for student affairs at George Mason University, where she also previously served as an assistant dean for student academic affairs.
“I think our primary focus should be on respecting and celebrating one another’s humanity,” she said. “A lot of times we talk about these concepts in abstract, but in reality, we’re talking about people, their lived experience, the way they feel, the way they’re able to engage in a place, so I always kind of go back to that.”
Lastly, the university’s fourth and final open forum was held Thursday, Sept. 16, with Dr. A.T. Miller. After serving at Cornell University as associate vice provost for academic diversity, Miller is currently working as vice president and chief diversity officer at Central Michigan University. Miller showcased his background in literature by beginning his forum with a poem. He emphasized the importance of creating inclusion to formulate a safe space to discuss issues of equity.
“In the words of Arthur Chan … diversity is a fact, equity is a choice, inclusion is an action and belonging is an outcome,” he said. “When we speak of full participation … it means full participation in everything the institution has to offer for faculty staff and students in every possible program within every facility.”
Junior sociology major, SGA President and NAACP President Brianna “Breezy” Reaves expressed praise for UMW’s decision to hire a Chief Diversity Officer.
“In regards to really moving DEI [diversity, equity and inclusion] outside of just the James Farmer Multicultural Center, it should be seen in every aspect of UMW,” she said.
Scotti Mullen contributed to reporting for this article.