A Closer Look at the AVP for Diversity and Inclusion

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On Oct. 21, 2016, President Tuajuanda Jordan sent out an all-student email marking the completion of the search for a new Associate Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion (AVP). After months of research, Dr. Koret Mensah has been announced as the inaugural holder of the title; this position will make Mensah a member of the President’s cabinet. Mensah will be responsible for coordinating efforts to establish excellence in inclusion, diversity and equity throughout the St. Mary’s community. She was selected out of four final candidates, including current SMCM faculty member Dr. Sybol Anderson, Dr. Ande Diaz, and Dr. Idella Glenn. Mensah is slated to begin on Nov. 28, 2016. Soon after that, The Point News will conduct a full profile of her. This new position however, is interesting in itself.

The position of AVP stems from a necessity: “the events and attitudes that have led to the demand for an [AVP] of Diversity and Inclusion started decades ago,” explains Micaiah Wheeler. “St. Mary’s is home to many different kinds of students who are unique in their own way. They come with different backgrounds, upbringings and philosophies. A goal of St. Mary’s is to immerse its students into many different cultures, people, languages and ways of thinking.” Wheeler, class of 2018, was a student member of the search committee who facilitated the selection process for the AVP. “This [goal] is best accomplished by having diversity here on campus, and only when everyone feels valued and included. That’s why this office has such demand and was implemented.”

The search was conducted by a committee comprised of students, faculty and staff. Committee Chair Dean Leonard Brown, Professors Betül Başaran of Religious Studies, Jeffrey Coleman of English and Angela Draheim of Psychology; Library Office Administrator Alan Lutton; and students Micaiah Wheeler, Israel Ruiz and Olivia Nowlin worked to find the most qualified candidate to fill this position. After narrowing down the field to four candidates, they hosted forums so that the community could voice their opinions of the candidates.

The Diversity Fellow, Hana Knoll, expressed similar sentiments as to what led to the creation of Mensah’s position: “I believe we’ve always needed this position. There were events that sparked a lot of tension on campus, and they called called for action. I think a lot of students have felt like their voices have been drowned out and that they feel lesser. […] It is exhausting trying to defend yourself and feeling like you don’t belong on this campus.That isn’t how things should be. With this new AVP, they may not solve all of our problems, but my hope is, little by little and overtime, tension will turn into understanding, silence will turn into conversations and there is no longer a reason to attack each other over our differences.”

Dean of Students Leonard Brown substantiated Knoll’s explanation for the position stating …many Colleges and Universities have an Institutional Diversity Officer. There were a number of different groups on campus who asked for this position to be created because they believed it would be an important addition to the community.” Brown continued that the events on campus, such as the “Natty Boh hunt cans” and the “north woods swing,” were a signal of the issue, but not the directly responsible for the position’s creation; “While some of the concerns over the past year are indicative of why we need the position, they were not the catalyst.”

In an email sent to all students last August, following the Time to Pause community meeting, President Jordan updated the community on the situation. “During the last academic year, there was broad campus support for a diversity officer. I am pleased to inform you that the search for an Associate Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion is well underway.”

Those who conducted the search want to stress that the AVP is meant to work for everyone. “This Vice President is YOUR vice president, regardless of who you are, your skin color, sexual orientation, gender or religion […] Her job is to work with administration and implement strategies that help to make everyone here at St. Mary’s feel a part of the community,” continued Wheeler.

Both Wheeler and Knoll expect Mensah to take a hands-on approach when she starts on Nov. 28. Knoll said that she expects Mensah to spark conversation, organize events, and gather ideas from the St. Mary’s community. Wheeler echoed that statement “I see [Dr. Mensah] being a counselor, mediator, friend, mentor. I see her being a bridge to those who may feel disconnected.”

The future of diversity and inclusion is expected to be brighter now that Mensah is a part of the St. Mary’s community. All of the people interviewed, Dean Brown, Wheeler and Knoll, believe that the college is headed in the right direction following the hiring of Dr. Kortet Mensah. “I am very optimistic about the future […] when it comes to diversity and inclusion. We have a President who sees the needs of students and hears them and she has a strong backing behind her,” explained Wheeler. “I hope that very soon we won’t be fighting for the same things that students here at St. Mary’s were fighting for in the 90s. That eventually we as a student body could focus outside, to improving St. Mary’s City, Leonardtown and surrounding areas.” 


11/15/2015- Article was edited to include quotes from an auxiliary source.

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