Why Three Instead of One?
By Claire Oberon Garcia
Professor of English
Dean of the Faculty
Colorado College’s commitment to become an antiracist institution compels us to make substantive changes in all areas of college life and activity. To combat racist ideas, policies, and behaviors, we must develop and implement antiracist ideas, policies, and behaviors. We can only do this on the ground level, with the guidance of people who have deep expertise in the areas of academics, human resources, and student life.
The traditional chief diversity officer model, which Dr. Roger Worthington recommended in the college’s External Review of Racism and which has failed at other colleges and universities, is not an effective way of transforming an institution structurally and culturally, and is not consistent with CC’s decentralized, non-hierarchical culture. The illusion that a high-level administrator who sits on the cabinet will be able to construct systems of accountability and change racist policies and practices campus wide is just that — an illusion. Antiracism doesn’t happen top down. It happens on the front lines of the classrooms, departments, offices, and programs. We need people who have the expertise and authority to give informed support and guidance on the ground level with individuals who are doing work every day in their particular areas. Every current policy and practice must be scrutinized under an equity and inclusion lens, and when necessary, new policies and practices must be put in place. No one person has the necessary expertise to do this in-depth analysis and to help those responsible in different areas make real change.
For example, the senior associate dean will be responsible for advancing and implementing the antiracism goals in the academic realm. All academic departments and programs are already in the process of evaluating the structures of their majors and minors, their curricula and their hiring practices through a diversity, equity, and inclusion lens. The senior associate dean will also be creating a new and meaningful program of professional development for faculty through all stages of their career from candidacy to mid-career to emeritx that recognizes our commitment to be an institution that values each employee and helps them to thrive. The successful candidate for this position will have a long and deep track record that shows a commitment to inclusive pedagogies and the ability to combat racism in all aspects of academic life and practice. They understand – through their professional and personal experiences – the particular challenges of changing academic culture and practices, some of which, like elitism, were identified in the External Review of Racism at Colorado College as perpetuating racism. The senior associate dean will help us make fundamental changes and construct a culture of accountability to support those changes. Thus, we are seeking a full professor with a depth of diversity, equity, and inclusion experience in the pedagogical and scholarly realms. No traditional chief diversity officer could do this work with faculty and also do the same intense work for the Student Life and Human Resources units.
Because we are a small college and all aspects of college life are deeply connected, these three experts will work together as a team, making sure that our policies and practices are consistent and our accountability structures are equitable across all divisions of the college. The search firm that is helping us find the right people will make sure that the successful candidates are all equally strong in their fields but also have complementary talents and skills that will ensure that they act as a team. They will work closely with the president, vice presidents, provost, and deans, as well as the new oversight committee.
As a black woman who has worked in academe for over 30 years, I have several friends and colleagues who are deeply involved in diversity, equity, and inclusion work, from the classroom to the boardroom. Many have done stints as chief diversity officers, directors of multicultural centers, and chairs of ethnic studies programs. We have had many long conversations about the failures of the traditional chief diversity officer model. These positions are usually high-level symbolic positions without any real power to actually change things, but they allow colleges and universities to promote the idea that they take diversity and inclusion so seriously that they will pay someone to “oversee,” “advise,” “monitor,” “facilitate,” “enable,” etc. People in such positions often get little respect and have zero authority over different divisions of the campus. Colorado College is lucky to have on its Board of Trustees three alumni who were student activists and leaders during their time at CC and who have gone on to develop internationally respected careers in civil rights advocacy. They helped develop the three-person model and have given it their full endorsement as the structure more likely than a chief diversity officer model to create meaningful, long-lasting structural and cultural change at Colorado College.
CC must change. We must become a more inclusive, respectful community that helps all of its members be their best selves. We can either continue as we have been for the 30 years that I have worked here: responding impulsively to particular outbursts of racism and other hateful behaviors but maintaining the same old structures, ideas, and policies that perpetuate racism, contribute to an unwelcoming campus climate and disrespect the humanity of minoritized students, faculty, and employees. Or we can approach the task of becoming a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive community with imagination, a willingness to take risks, and a commitment to hold ourselves accountable. Assembling a team of three experts in how diversity, equity, and inclusion policies and practices play out in the three main areas of college life is a bold start that sets a foundation for an ongoing process of evolution.