By Amethyst Martinez
After a summer of departures among diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) frontrunners at the university, multiple roles have been combined and given to one employee: Heeyoung Kim.
Kim, who has worked at the university since 2010 and serves as the director of the Teaching and Learning Center (TLC) in addition to being a professor at the university, will now be taking over two other DEI roles on top of her prior responsibilities.
This move, however, is unsurprising: Kim, who is now the chief diversity officer (CDO), has worked in similar roles since her beginning at Rider and currently teaches university employees about the importance of DEI.
Rider’s community has been actively trying to catch up to other colleges in terms of DEI, from adding the CDO role in 2021, to a recently initiated Student Government Association president with a main focus on DEI.
Barbara Lawrence, the previous CDO, left the university in June, followed shortly after by Pamela Pruitt, executive director for the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI), and Leanna Fenneberg, vice president of student affairs, who left in July.
Although Pruitt and Lawrence’s departures were voluntary, Fenneberg’s position was eliminated, according to Provost DonnaJean Fredeen. All three figures worked mostly on DEI issues, leaving a hole at the university in a list of top employees.
In an interview with The Rider News in June, Lawrence expressed concerns for the university’s future in DEI after the departures.
“It is a tremendous loss for Rider right now,” said Lawrence. “I think it speaks to where their real priority was with the diversity work, which wasn’t what I think people thought.”
In the same interview, Lawrence predicted that the role would be filled by someone already employed at Rider who they “feel more comfortable with.”
Kim, who spoke with The Rider News on Aug. 31, believes, however, that she is prepared given her previous roles at Rider.
“I’ve been in the fabric of DEI for the past five years or six years,” said Kim. “I feel like I have all the background now.”
Fredeen said that, when looking to fill the CDO role, Kim felt like “the perfect person to put in place.”
Kim said, “I feel confident that I have historical knowledge and experience of what we do with DEI work.”
Kim also said that being a professor has aided her in understanding what students need in terms of DEI, which has helped her when working with faculty.
“I believe that I have great, trusting relationships with many faculty members. So whenever you start a new job, or a new responsibility, building relationship is the first thing you have to do,” said Kim. “I already have ⅓ of the big community [where] I built the relationship.”
Kim’s role at the university will now be a combination of Lawrence’s old position, along with Pruitt’s, whose main focus was the Center for Diversity and Inclusion. She will also continue to work as the director of the TLC and as a professor.
Currently, Kim and Fredeen are preparing for an evaluation of the university in September, where a DEI specialist will create a comprehensive assessment of the university’s work over the past four years since the launch of Rider’s inclusive excellence plan.
“We have over 75 pages of accomplishments,” said Kim. “I just wanted to see that from an expert.”
Kim said that the specialist will do their assessment, along with her own, in order to see where DEI can be strengthened at the university and what the next steps are.
“[They] can help me to create additional goals [that] maybe we haven’t thought about,” said Kim. “[But] I don’t think that’s the case.”
Originally printed in the 9/6/2023 issue.