Search for a Chief Diversity Officer Continues

Claire Bergerson, Staff Writer

Colgate University’s Chief Diversity Officer Search Committee, co-chaired by Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience Spencer Kelly and Acting Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President for Communications Laura Jack, is working with the Diversified Search Group, an executive search group focused on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), to fill the position of Chief Diversity Officer. The search committee is composed of faculty, staff and members of the University Cabinet. This position will sit on the President’s Cabinet and engage with divisions all across campus, from human resources to financial aid offices.

University President Brian Casey announced in an email sent March 25 that he had appointed Jack to serve as Acting Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) until the official search is completed. 

“Though her time in this interim CDO role will be limited, I believe her willingness to take it on will make a profound difference in Colgate’s ability to maintain a sense of momentum, allowing us to welcome a permanent CDO to an institution clearly committed to inclusive equity,” Casey stated in the email. 

Managing director of Diversified Search Group Euris Belle is currently working with various facets of the Colgate community to determine the requirements of the position unique to Colgate and hosted conversations with the Colgate community on Thursday, April 9, and Monday, April 12. Belle will continue to meet regularly with the Search Committee and conduct Zoom calls with students and faculty to gain a holistic understanding of the Colgate environment. 

“The conversations are very helpful for me to gain an understanding of the opportunities and challenges the new CDO will face. I also like to hear what is special about Colgate so I can use this information to help generate interest and attract potential candidates to Colgate,” Belle said.

Student involvement is not limited to these initial dialogues with Belle. A subset of student leaders will also have the opportunity to meet with candidates who are interviewed. Kelly explained the important role students play in the search.

“We had a few of those [student and candidate] meetings already during the process started by our previous search firm, and Colgate’s search committee took that feedback extremely seriously. I think it is safe to say that if a diverse group of students have real problems with a candidate, that candidate will not advance,” Kelly said. 

Director of ALANA Cultural Center Esther Rosbrook said she has also been part of several conversations about the CDO search and was invited to a meeting with the search firm. 

“The ALANA Cultural Center is ready to support the work of CDO. We both want to make sure that everyone has equal opportunities to succeed, develop, and be part of positive or great experiences by being part of Colgate University,” Rosbrook said.

ALANA Social Justice Peer Educator Maggie Aulman said she hopes the Chief Diversity Officer will be made accessible to students, though she expressed worry about the responsibility of the role existing in a “vacuum.”

“I think their success will be dependent on their visibility and openness to feedback,” Aulman said. “What worries me about this position, is that all of the diversity efforts and initiatives will become the responsibility of one person and will be put in a vacuum it a sort of way.  It can’t be all on one person and needs to be the responsibility of every member of administration and every member of the colgate community to support justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion everyday.”

Hiring a Chief Diversity Officer that is capable of making Colgate into a welcoming community for all is a key component of Colgate’s Third Century Plan, according to Kelly, which emphasizes the importance of exposing students to diverse perspectives and backgrounds. Kelly states that giving all voices a platform in order to achieve this goal is a necessity.  

“Some voices have had — and still have — more power than others, and that can push down other voices that also deserve to be heard. One of Colgate’s major educational goals is to expose people to diverse perspectives, so to help us achieve that goal, I want to empower all voices at Colgate,” Kelly said.

Rosbrook echoed Kelly’s sentiment while emphasizing the importance of incremental improvement.

“Some higher education institutions have a historical legacy of marginalization and exclusion, leading to mistrust among minority students, faculty, staff and alumni. While CDOs cannot erase hundreds of years of institutional exclusion and systemic racism in a short time frame, they can surely help build and mend trust in all institutional members,” Rosbrook said.

The Search Committee and Belle are looking for candidates with credentials in policy development, institutional leadership and DEI engagement, according to Belle.

“We seek individuals who can serve as DEI thought leaders for a campus and have demonstrated experience in a similar role; ability to work across all constituents of a campus and the surrounding community; excellent communications skills with the ability to facilitate difficult conversations; sensitivity to the concerns of others; ability to create a climate of trust,” Belle said.

Kelly explained the importance of finding a leader who can convince all members of the Colgate community of the importance of DEI initiatives.

“Colgate has a lot of work to do, and the only way we will change things around here is if we all roll up our sleeves and get to work,” Kelly said. “We are hoping to find someone who can inspire us and guide us in accomplishing that tough task.”