Students discuss qualities and qualifications for chief diversity officer position

By Tatyanna Carman 

Rider students and members of the Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) Search Committee attended the student listening session for the position on Feb. 10 at 6 p.m. 

There were two other listening sessions for staff and faculty on Feb. 10 at 5 p.m. and Feb. 11 at 5:30 p.m., respectively. Fourteen people attended the student listening session. 

According to an email sent by the university about the listening session on Feb. 2, Vice President for Student Affairs Leanna Fenneberg and Associate Professor of the Department of Psychology Alison Thomas-Cottingham, the co-chairs of the CDO search committee, worked in collaboration with their search partner, AGB Search, to, “schedule a number of listening sessions next week for different campus stakeholders.” 

“Our partners with AGB Search facilitated listening sessions with a variety of campus stakeholders (faculty, staff, students, Cabinet, Deans, President’s Council on Inclusion, CDO exploratory committee) as an opportunity for individuals to share their perspectives on key characteristics of candidates for this position who would be successful and key opportunities and challenges for the person in this role,” said Fenneberg and Thomas-Cottingham in an email statement.

Some of the responsibilities for the CDO include serving as a “support for faculty and staff of color,” to “work collaboratively with Academic Affairs and with faculty to promote cultural competency, enhance knowledge on diversifying the curriculum and to prioritize the work of diversity and inclusion within departments” and to “serve as a collaborative partner to the Center for Diversity and Inclusion and other units and programs that focus on diversity, equity and inclusion goals,” according to the Feb. 2 email.  

Fenneberg and Thomas-Cottingham also explained the timeline of events that will follow after these sessions in regards to recruitment for this position. 

“We are presently engaging members of the campus community to inform the search profile that will be used to inform and attract candidates,” Fenneberg and Thomas-Cottingham said. “The search will officially launch (i.e. be publicized nationally) Mar. 1. As with most senior-level positions, we will solicit applications for about 6-8 weeks. Interviews will begin in May, with a hope to identify the candidate of choice in time to begin prior to the start of the fall semester.”

Senior musical theater major Dean Klebonas, Student Government Association (SGA) campus life chair and search committee member, said that it is “super” important that the position goes to a person “who students will feel safe going to” and someone with “personality and approachability.” 

Senior psychology major Leauna Chisholm, SGA equity and inclusion chair, and search committee member, added that whoever is chosen for the position needs to “be able to hold students, faculty and staff accountable” and emphasized the importance of reaching out to not only student leaders but also students who are not leaders. 

“Now being that we are virtual, there are a lot of students who are falling by the wayside because they don’t know where these groups are all the time, per se, or they haven’t heard of them yet,” Chisholm said. “So they’re unspoken for. So maybe to get more insight on what a student is speaking for, reach out to students who aren’t leaders. Because every student isn’t going to be a leader. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a voice.”

Klebonas referenced one of the responsibilities of the CDO position that involves a partnership with Title IX and said that the incoming CDO should be “a voice in cases with Title IX” if they are not working on the case, especially with cases of inequality or harassment. 

“[In] my experience with Title IX, everyone was white,” said Klebonas. “…If there is like a racial inequality case, I feel like that representation is not really there. So if they can have a part in that, I think that would be super helpful in reassuring people that if you go to the school about something, something will be done, and they’ll help you through it.”

The students also discussed what makes Rider students special. 

Senior musical theater major and SGA President Dylan Erdelyi said, “I think what’s really amazing about our student body is that we have students that are so passionate in particular areas. We have amazing artists at Rider and we have an amazing business program, education, such dedicated educators. And I think that feeds into this position because it’s really not one-size-fits-all in any way.”

Fenneberg and Thomas-Cottingham said that the listening session offered “incredible insight and student perspective on the position and priorities related to diversity, equity and inclusion at Rider.” 

Chisholm said that she thought the session went well because she felt as though the AGB Search representatives were genuinely listening. She also added that she felt as though they received a “genuine and raw student view.” 

Chisholm said that the CDO position was needed, especially after the Feb. 11 Zoom bombing incident where discriminatory remarks were targeted at participants at a virtual Valentine’s Day event. She mentioned how the use of the word “alleged” in a university email sent on Feb.12  about the incident could have been avoided if there was a CDO involved. 

“I felt like that would have been avoided, because they would have looked at their email before it was sent out, they would have known that alleged is not the word. Because it’s not alleged. I was called the N-word on my own presentation. It’s not alleged. I have the screenshot, stuff like that. It’s things like that, where it’s like, it’s not a miscommunication on purpose, but that could have been avoided.” 

The university sent out a follow-up email on Feb. 12 explaining why the term “alleged” was used and apologized. The word “alleged” was used because the incident was being actively investigated, according to the email. 

Chisholm also said that the position can help non-white students on campus feel supported. 

“I think that’s what a lot of students are looking for. I’m not saying that I don’t feel supported, but I’m also a student leader who’s also in a lot of rooms that a lot of students are not in,” Chisholm said. “And I don’t represent every Black kid on campus. So there are a lot of students who are not white, that just don’t feel supported. So yeah, I think that position can build that gap.”

Caption: Students discussed what makes Rider students special at the Chief Diversity Officer listening session. 

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