Chief diversity officer must be more than a figurehead

Prior to Thanksgiving break on Nov. 18, UConn President Susan Herbst announced her acceptance of the Diversity Task Force’s recommendations in order to improve diversity on campus in an email sent out to the university.  She also announced the creation of a Chief Diversity Officer position, and her openness to recommendations for this position from faculty and students.

While the effort put forth is admirable given the current atmosphere regarding racism on college campuses nationwide, these recommendations need to be meaningful and affect change. 

The email relayed recommendations from the report that Herbst is accepting alongside hiring a Chief Diversity Officer, such as: creating a Diversity Council with a broad representation of the UConn community; improving the recruitment and retention of minority faculty; building on diversity and success in the student body; producing consistent data; expanding diversity curricula and increasing funds for diversity related events. 

The vague wording holds little meaning in telling the student body what “improving diversity” means.  The role of the Chief Diversity Officer is unclear. His or her role in the Herbst’s agenda isn’t distinguished from the Diversity Council or the Diversity Task Force. If the email was to assure the student body that the administration is taking steps to improving diversity on campus, then the email should have been void of such ambiguity. 

In a UConn Today article, Herbst said, “When we talk about ‘diversity’, ‘inclusion’, and ‘non-discrimination’ in higher education, we’re not rattling off buzzwords for public relations value. We’re talking about human beings and the lives they lead.” However, the email fails to move past said buzzwords to explain to the students the steps being taken. The main goal is stated, but the means by which the administration hope to achieve their ends is unclear. 

The Diversity Task Force says they are “impressed with the breadth of diversity efforts and programming at the University” but thinks there must be a unifying role, which would engage all schools and colleges within the university. The Chief Diversity Officer may very well prove significant and necessary for the successful implementation of this plan. However, the worry is that this role may turn into something meaningless or powerless, serving as another public relations position for the administration. This is another paid faculty position, and with that we should see results from the appointing of such position.

The hope is that these recommendations hit their mark and help increase diversity in both the student body and faculty. The effort the administration is employing is seen and appreciated. The expectation now is that these efforts are fruitful, and bring meaningful change to Storrs and the greater UConn community.