On Oct. 7, Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer (CDEIO) Ivonne García and Dean of Students (DoS) Mryna Hernández sent an email detailing changes in the CDEIO office, the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) and the DoS office. One of the significant changes included the addition of an Ombudsperson for faculty, staff and administration. An Ombudsperson is an independent officer who “informally works within the institution to listen to concerns, promote equitable resolutions, provide information and referral services and to serve as an organizational resource to promote conflict management skills and provide insight into patterns of concerns that are operating within the institution.”
The email mentioned that the position was added “in response to requests from Black Indigenous Persons of Color (BIPOC) and underrepresented faculty and staff,” and introduced Patricia Romney as the College’s Ombudsperson. In an article that Romney wrote for the College’s newsletter, she detailed her role as the College’s Ombuds:
“The College of Wooster Ombuds is an independent, informal, impartial and confidential resource for faculty, administrators and staff. The Ombuds exists to help faculty, administrators and staff explore concerns and receive assistance in resolving conflicts. She may clarify procedures, make referrals to other services and provide conflict management services as appropriate. The Ombuds Office is a place where members of the faculty, administration and staff can communicate issues of concern without fear of reprisal and offers a place for people to seek guidance on ways to address actual or potential inequities.”
The email sent by García and Hernández also emphasized Romney’s credibility, stating, “For the past 30 years, Dr. Romney has been engaged in dialogue work, large-scale diversity initiatives, leadership development and team building, as well as professional coaching of individual faculty and administrators in academia.”
“The Ombudsperson reports directly to the College president. She works independently of all administrative and academic offices to promote fair conflict management systems, to identify harmful problems or trends that may impact equity and fairness, and to suggest where attention should be directed to address these issues. She maintains confidentiality of communications, delivers anonymous aggregate data to the President and provides information on any harmful trends identified by visitors to the Office of the Ombuds. She may also make recommendations for revisions in policy and/or structure as well as assessments of campus climate. The Ombuds Office will not disclose the names, departments or details of an issue without permission. The only exceptions to this privilege of confidentiality is where there appears to be imminent risk of serious harm, are Title IX violations or a felony is involved. Communications with the Ombuds Office are therefore considered confidential and privileged.”
While Romney plays a critical role in promoting equity on campus, this important addition to the College community has not been adequately advertised, especially considering how Romney’s title is rather ambiguous in terms of detailing her position. First, although Romney has served as an Ombuds for the past five months, she does not have a profile on the College’s website yet. The only mention of Romney’s role on the website can be found in Bolton’s announcement in late August. She has not yet been listed on the faculty and staff directory either, so contacting her requires a faculty or staff member to check their email and find the newsletter that contains her contact information. Recently, when members of the custodial staff expressed concerns about their work environment, the Voice asked the staff if they knew about the Ombuds — the custodial staff did not. This lack of visibility of a potentially influential official has raised concerns about the College’s intention in supporting members of the community, and some members have questioned whether the College’s actions are merely performative.
“I remember how the administration committed to take actions to create an equitable campus, but I don’t know much about what they have done so far,” Ezana Kiros ’22 stated. “I did not know about the Ombudsperson until recently, but the position seems very important, so the College should definitely work to ensure faculty and staff have access to her. They’ve said they hired the Ombuds in response to BIPOC’s requests, but what is the point of having a resource if nobody knows it’s available?”
Romney is currently working part-time, and her office hours are Mondays from 9 a.m. to noon or by appointment. She can be contacted via email at email@example.com or by phone at (413)-253-5630.