Dr. Lisa McBride, one of three candidates for the newly-created position of Chief Diversity Officer (CDO), delivered a presentation on her credentials and goals in the Dodd Center's Konover Auditorium Thursday afternoon.
University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst announced the Diversity Task Force’s recommendation to appoint a CDO in November of last year.
The CDO’s job is to “educate and motivate member of this community to fully embrace diversity and inclusion as core values, not just to be talked about, but to be collectively practiced at UConn,” Herbst said. UConn has reached out to the CDOs of other institutions as well as those of corporations and businesses to fill the position.
The CDO will be a cabinet-level position and will directly report to the President. A major focus of the Task Force and of the CDO is better retention and recruitment of minority students, staff and faculty. The amount of black faculty members has not increased in the past decade, and UConn ranks 16th out of the top 30 national public universities in minority percentage. Based on questions at McBride’s presentation, though, students are also concerned about campus culture and curbing racism on campus.
Dr. McBride earned her Bachelor of Science and master of science in criminology from Indiana University in 1986 and 1987, respectively, also garnering her doctor of philosophy in conflict analysis and resolution from Nova Southeastern University in 2007.
McBride has a varied background, working as a police officer, homicide detective, adjunct professor, tenured professor, administrator and, most recently CDO of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.
She called herself a “late bloomer” when it comes to “caring about diversity.”
McBride has had a successful career in dealing with diversity, spearheading projects like a mentoring program for African-American and Latino males, who have higher probabilities of dropping out of middle school and high school than other populations, and symposiums on transgender treatment in medicine.
“The proudest moment of my life is when I hear these students call me and say, I just got out of dental school, or law school,” McBride said of the mentoring program.
McBride acknowledged the wide-ranging definitions of diversity and CDO during her presentation. She recognized the importance of money, saying that when college presidents asked about her job, she would speak about diversity from an economic perspective.
“Diversity… is fundamental to institutional excellence. It offers an institution an opportunity to reach their bottom line,” McBride said.
An all-encompassing humanity lies at the core of McBride’s philosophy on diversity. To McBride, diversity “is our experiences.” This means everything from race and ethnicity to sexuality, geography and politics.
“I would argue that class is the biggest aspect of diversity that we have today,” McBride said, acknowledging that class goes across racial and ethnic boundaries.
This philosophy of McBride’s extends to how she treats her job as CDO, which, she believes, is charged with working together on every level of institutional bureaucracy, including cultural centers, administrators, admissions, the Office of Diversity and Equity, alumni relations and the Undergraduate Student Government.
Backed up by approving murmurs from a crowd of approximately 100, McBride attacked what she termed the “body count” syndrome, which is essentially putting too much stock into the percentages of minorities in faculty, staff and students.
“When I come on the UConn campus, if I don’t feel it’s inclusive, it don’t matter how many people you bring here,” McBride said.
Also important to McBride was her concept of UConn’s history and her belief that within the first 120 days you “define yourself as a leader.”
“How do you know where you want to go, if you don’t understand where you’ve been?” McBride asked. “How did UConn get to where it is today as relates to diversity and inclusion?”
The top priority for McBride is making sure students can function in the diverse, real world, evoking the concept of global citizenship.
“We are training and educating students to be global citizens. How are they global citizens if they get three hours of diversity-related courses?” McBride questioned. “When you look at the Great Recession, what we have is knowledge-based global economy. We need global and national citizens that can work in diverse environments.”
This brought McBride to another point: that curriculum must be infused with looking at all the differences in the world. She called for a robust curriculum in this respect, advocating for diversity-related course requirements. One idea she mentioned, in an effort to gain common ground, was to bring faculty from different disciplines together to examine and study racial and ethnic health disparities.
Before students and faculty left their seats to ask questions, McBride said something that resonated with the audience. Her point was that when racial and ethnic minorities feel a connection to the campus culture, they’re more likely to succeed.
The question and answer period involved exchanges that McBride handled with political deftness, never losing sight of her message. When asked about how she would deal with issues of racism on campus, and if that would be more in the role of public relations official or conflict management, McBride played up her ability as an investigator, her evenhandedness, saying that she acted the same around both students and administrators, and her wish to be thorough.
“When we have an incident, the first thing is not really damage control. You can’t have strategic plans that are based on crisis. You wouldn’t want to make a statement before you know what happened,” McBride said.
“A lot of times, you can’t say that ‘this is only an isolated incident.’ Once you do an investigation, you may find it’s systemic. Then, the CDO’s role is to say, ‘we have a systemic problem in x department, and we have a responsibility to eliminate and terminate that behavior immediately,” McBride added. “I believe in being transparent. The campus climate survey, when we do it, we have town halls, like we’re having with this open forum…When you have those type of incidents, you don’t run away from them, you run to them. Don’t be afraid to bring together the community to say . . . ‘we have to do it better.’”
The only awkward part of this aspect of the presentation was when McBride said she was “confused” regarding a question on intersectionality, and failed to answer the question adequately.
McBride also said that there needs to be LGBT friendly facilities in every dormitory on campus, in response to a student’s question.
Before McBride’s presentation, she met with student leaders, such as Julian Rose, a seventh-semester biomedical engineering major and an activist on campus.
“The meeting with Dr. McBride was a positive one and I was pleasantly surprised by the apparent caliber of the candidates that UConn has recruited. Dr. McBride seems invested in administrative transparency and accountability as well as making it a priority to involve students in every initiative she undertakes,” Rose said. “I look forward to reaching out to her for further exploration of her philosophy and intentions, as I was able to attain her contact information, as well as meeting the other candidates if possible. Overall, I think it is critical that students play a main role in CDO selection process.”
With an impressive career and awards to her name, McBride is a solid candidate for CDO, as evidenced by her participation in the vigorous selection process.
Sten Spinella is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email firstname.lastname@example.org.