Author: Jessica Faroy
The Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) Search Committee brought four finalist candidates to campus Nov. 18–23. Preceding their visits, student representatives from the committee held a community meeting to introduce the finalists’ campus-wide presentations and address student concerns.
Nov. 17: Community Meeting
Representatives from the committee decided to hold the meeting, after they received several requests from students to explain the CDO search process and elaborate on the candidates, according to a Nov. 16 campus-wide email from CDO Search Committee Co-Chairs Kerry Thompson and Leora Freedman. Seven people attended the meeting, including two students.
At the meeting, students were offered two opportunities to interact with each CDO candidate: during their public presentations and later in the day in an open question and answer session with students, according to Freedman.
In June 2014, President Jonathan Veitch announced he was organizing a working group to determine a job description and organization for the office of the first CDO. However, discussions around creating the position date back 25 years, Thompson said at the meeting.
According to the leadership profile of the Occidental CDO created by executive search firm Witt/Kieffer, Occidental’s CDO will be a member of the executive team that works to promote issues of diversity and equity on campus.
“The CDO will advance the College’s longstanding commitment to inclusive excellence by intensifying its efforts to attract, develop and support a highly diverse community of accomplished students, faculty and staff,” the Witt/Kiefer leadership profile reads.
The members of the CDO Search Committee addressed student concerns about the role of the Office of Intercultural Affairs (ICA), as well as the CDO’s budget.
According to CDO Search Committee member Ella Turenne, the ICA will not be eliminated after the CDO arrives. Although the search committee does not yet know the exact relationship between the ICA and CDO, they suspect the two will work together closely.
Following Veitch’s Nov. 19 response to demands made by students in the Oxy United for Black Liberation movement, the CDO will be a vice president position, rather than a dean as previously stated.
Jorge González, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the college, said that the CDO will have an operating budget of $100,000 for three years and an additional $30,000-dollar fund, replenished yearly. Additionally, the CDO will receive a separate salary. Also in response to Oxy United’s demands, the CDO’s budget was later increased by 50 percent.
Nov. 18: Thomas Cruz-Soto, Jr.
The first candidate to visit campus, Thomas Cruz-Soto Jr., highlighted his 19 years of experience and training in numerous administrative and diversity positions, including fundraising, programming, intergroup dialogue and leadership training.
Cruz-Soto’s plans for Occidental included a recruitment and retention policy for faculty, mandatory diversity and equity training, enhanced training for law enforcement personnel with a recommended external review and the development of a Black Studies program.
Before his presentation, Cruz-Soto met with some of the students occupying the Arthur G. Coons Administrative Center (AGC). He said he thought Oxy United’s demands would be easy to accomplish.
Nov. 19: Rhonda L. Brown
Rhonda L. Brown, the next candidate to visit the campus, spoke about her experience as a female student of color in a small, liberal arts school. She said she graduated and struggled with her career before returning to campus to help students of color recognize their value.
In response to Oxy United’s protests, Brown said she thought students feel voiceless and that certain people have done things students find hurtful.
“Those things have fractured your community, not broken it,” Brown said.
According to Brown, when it comes to hiring diverse faculty, it is important to foster a connection and not just make them an “add-on” to a department.
Brown also said that the board of trustees needs to become aware of the substantial changes occurring on campus. She suggested a better line of communication between the board of trustees and the campus community.
Nov. 20: Octavio Villalpando
Octavio Villalpando, who currently identifies as a Chicano, cisgender male, began his presentation recounting his college experience as a first-generation student studying topics of diversity and higher education.
He then elaborated on his work as a former vice president of diversity and equity at the University of Utah, where he drew on critical race theory and research to manage and review policies pertaining to diversity and equity, participate in recruiting and retaining faculty and introduce the creation of an ethnic studies program in 2008.
Villalpando said he raised $3.5 million in five years for a previous institution, endowed scholarships for African American students and created a separate fund to benefit undocumented students.
Villalpando also responded to faculty concerns of acquiring further faculty of color. In his opinion, faculty should unionize.
Nov. 23: Sumun L. Pendakur
The final CDO candidate, Sumun L. Pendakur, said she is the daughter of immigrants from South India.
She characterized her leadership style as strategic and not reactive, drawing heavily upon scholarship and research.
As dean of institutional diversity at Harvey Mudd College, Pendakur used theory and literature to build a diversity program from the ground up. The previous program relied on outdated concepts, Pendakur said.
In order to develop Occidental’s own model, Pendakur said she would sit down with students, faculty and staff to create a strategy specific to Occidental. According to Pendakur, this involves collectively examining policies, budget, student life, curriculum and how each unit across campus is dealing with access, inclusion and equity.
Throughout the presentations, students, faculty, staff and administrators completed evaluation surveys on the CDO candidates. The surveys, requested by Veitch, will be used to help determine Occidental’s new CDO. In an email to the community Nov. 30, Thompson and Freedman said the tasks of the search committee had been completed and Veitch now had to choose which candidate to hire.
According to Veitch, he will consult with members of the search committee and take into consideration community input and candidates’ references in order to make the decision. Veitch said he would like to make a selection in the next few weeks, with the CDO starting in the spring. Even so, given the potential prior commitments of the candidates, the start date may be liable to change.
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