Dr. Leslie Wingard named Interim CDEIO in Academic Affairs

Malachi Mungoshi

Viewpoints Editor

 

Viewpoints Editor Malachi Mungoshi ’24 talks with Interim Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer (CDEIO) of Academic Affairs to discuss her position and her plans to deal with issues specific to her role.

What is your role in CDEIO?

I am the interim Chief  Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer in Academic Affairs, which is a three-part job: there is someone else who deals more explicitly with students, a person who deals more explicitly with staff, and I deal more explicitly with faculty. 

In my role, I am the liaison for Black faculty and staff. I help with bias incident reporting, as it is a process that goes through the Dean of Faculty Christa Craven. When Craven is pursuing complaints about faculty here on campus, or any other type of concerns, there may be a bias report filed and I help with it.

What offices do you work most closely with?

I work closely with Craven and Provost Lisa Perfetti. Dr. Ivonne Garcia, our predecessor, did all aspects of this job and while we are in the interim role, it has been split into the three components. I also participate in a cabinet for the College which includes the President, the Dean of Curriculum and Academic Engagement, Jennifer Bowen, and the senior officers in Admissions, Communications and Student Affairs, as well as the head of IT. We all come together once a week to discuss things from all of our different perspectives.

Dr. Garcia had a five-year plan during her time as the CDEIO. Are you planning to continue with that plan, or are your goals different?

My plans are more short term since I am only in this role until early 2022, but I continue to work with Kayla Campbell — the CDEIO staff member that works primarily with students — and with Shaquez Dickens, another member of the CDEIO staff that works primarily with the staff members at the College. I meet with them once a week and I regularly check in to see how my CDEIO work with faculty could overlap with their work with students and staff. In addition, we have a BIPOC faculty and staff group that meets once a month where we bring issues to the President and we just support one another on this campus. There is an event coming up this Oct. 6 where Black students are being invited to talk to the Black faculty that are currently on campus so that they know that we are here, and that we can provide support if they are feeling like fish out of water. We want to erase the line that is sometimes drawn between faculty and staff on this campus, so that is one reason why we want to have the BIPOC group that includes faculty and staff members. We want students that may come from underrepresented backgrounds to know who we are and what support we can offer.

How do you see yourself creating a safe space of learning, especially for minority identities?

We are working on an initiative that all faculty on campus are engaged with — it is a series called “Colleges Must Change.” As faculty and staff, we are all [holding the series] to understand what it is like to be a person of an underrepresented identity on this campus. There are two courses that faculty can choose from to take, one of which is about dealing with conflict in the classroom. We will talk about this coursework in our department meetings which is being presented by Dr. Chavella Pittman. Faculty are required to sign up for these, and staff can sign up to do them if they want to, so it gets us all talking more and more about what might happen in our classrooms, or how students of different backgrounds, like the ones you just laid out, might be feeling. In this way, all people on this campus that teach and learn may better understand how to approach incidents that could be jolting for certain types. Right now, everybody is taking one of the courses, and we are set to be finished by December 26th. And even then, it is not as if we are completely finished. But instead, we have had the formal conversations, but I suspect that those conversations are going to carry on and we can keep referencing them in the spring semester and on into the future. The faculty voted on this last year, that we wanted to require it of all of us.

What are some challenges you face in your role as the interim CDEIO?

Sometimes I feel like there is some confusion about where to go, so I hope that becomes clearer and people know that we, as the three branches of the CDEIO, are all working together. But there is a point person, depending on what kind of diversity and inclusion question you have. It is a problem right now, because I think people are confused and there has been a lot of turnover, so I hope that as we interview to hire a full team for the CDEIO that we can be more clear about where to go for help. 

How do you separate your role as a professor from your role as interim CDEIO? How exactly does that work for you?

I do not separate them right now. I am not teaching any classes, although I am still chair of the English Department. I feel like I can allow my different identities in these roles as faculty member, chair of a department and interim Chief of Academic Affairs of CDEIO to work together so I can get the word out more quickly about things that involve us all. Because this is supposed to be a campus endeavour and the CDEIO work is supposed to be for diverse populations, we should all be talking to each other. So I do not  see [my different roles] as a problem. Instead, it is helpful to be both on the faculty and now in the administration. 

Traditionally, there has been an issue among student organizations — especially organizations that represent ethnic and cultural minorities and underrepresented groups on campus — of a lack of support from administration in general. For example, the Women of Images house is still named Colonial House. How do you plan to handle this disconnect and issues?

I want to listen to students and understand their needs. For instance, I meet with Black students alongside other Black faculty on Wednesday, and on Thursday I meet with BIPOC faculty and the President. If the students tell me something that they need on Wednesday, I can go to my next meeting on Thursday and report that. I feel like I have my ear to the ground now. I want to work from there and get some things done, so it is not just listening. However, I can figure out how to prioritize the action if I listen first and then, since I am interim, if I have a short amount of time to get things done, I can at least keep record of what else needs to be done when I am no longer in this role.