Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer hired

(Photo by Melina Bourdeau)

Educator and diversity trainer Sean Huddleston was hired as Framingham State University’s first Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer (CDIO) last Friday.

Huddleston will begin work Jan. 13, 2015 while students are on winter break.

“As soon as classes start, I expect him to start working with students and faculty immediately,” said University President F. Javier Cevallos.

The CDIO will report directly to Cevallos and sit on the executive team. The job description posted online described, the CDIO’s duties as including heading the FSU Leading for Change diversity consortium team, managing the Committee on Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) budget and measuring campus climate and use the results to drive strategic planning regarding the diversity and inclusion initiatives across campus.

“What I am hoping the candidate will do is take a really crisp look at that strategic plan, look at where it’s strong, where it’s weak and help us move it along,” said Rita Colucci, chief of staff, general counsel and chair of the CDIO search committee.

According to Colucci, FSU’s population has changed. In 2008, 13 percent of the undergraduate population was from underrepresented groups.

“I can tell you our incoming freshmen this year are 27 percent diverse,” said Colucci. “That is the most diverse class we have ever had.”

Now, it is time to take the next steps to “create a really inclusive campus so that every student that comes here feels welcome, feels like there is a place here for them, [and] is free from harassment,” Collucci said. She added some steps the administration has already taken include the formation of the CDI, the construction of the multicultural center and the hiring of its director, Kathy Martinez, who will now report to the CDIO.

Martinez said she is looking forward to working with Huddleston because his “energy and enthusiasm for working with students were apparent during his interview process and I think that is a vital component for this position.”

Since the opening of the Multicultural Center in 2013, Martinez has been actively involved in collecting and analyzing data to help with diversity initiatives across campus.

Martinez is hoping the CDIO will potentially refine current initiatives, create new ones, and “jump start our plan,” she said.

Martinez said a 2014 survey showed students of color “feel significantly less valued then their peers.

“I expect Sean to lead campus-wide diversity and inclusion initiatives,” said Martinez. “As an institution, we must improve our campus climate statistics and retention rates which have indicated that underrepresented students’ experiences need further consideration and attention.

“To improve those aspects, it will take a university-wide effort, which Sean will develop and manage. However, he and his office can’t do it alone,” said Martinez. “So, I hope he will help getting many facets of the institution on the same page to work collectively to improve these dimensions.”

Martinez said she would like to see “data-driven initiatives.

“I’m particularly looking forward to Sean’s experience working with bias reporting systems and creating programs to improve the retention rates of Latino and black students – both of which are much needed here at FSU,” said Martinez.

Colucci said she would like the CDIO to be accessible to the entire campus. However, he will be less available to students.

“I think the CDIO is going to be accessible to students, but I do not think he will have much day-to-day interaction with students,” she said.

The CDIO search committee included Kim Dexter, director of equal opportunity, Title IX and ADA Compliance, Professors Patricia Sanchez-Connally and Zhe Li, Accountant Chamara Eranga Sandaradura, Director of Academic Support/Disability Services LaDonna Bridges and students Nuzaiba Haider and Gabriella Betonces. The committee selected four candidates for on-campus interviews in an external search.

Throughout November, candidates were accessible during meet and greets, open forums and one-on-one interviews with Cevallos.

Attendance at the forums ranged from five to 14 students along with a large number of faculty and staff. At the events, attendees were asked to provide feedback via surveys, which included space for them to list what they believed were strengths and weaknesses of each candidate.

Students and faculty members were curious about what inspired the candidates, why they chose Framingham State and if they would share challenges they have faced during their careers in diversity and inclusion.

Cevallos said, “We were very fortunate that we had a very strong pool of candidates. …  Any one of them could have done the job.”

Huddleston grew up in Detroit in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s and said he did not experience racism until he entered the work force after graduating college because growing up, he said, “Everybody in a position of authority looked like me.”

He graduated with his B.A. from Siena Heights University in Adrian, Michigan and his M.A. in adult and higher education from Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan. It wasn’t until he joined the workforce, he said, that he started focusing on diversity and inclusion.

Huddleston said he wishes to assist Framingham State University in its diversity and inclusion initiatives with both a strategic approach and as a guide “to all of the structures, and systems of this institution.”

Huddleston is leaving his position as assistant vice president for strategic implementation, inclusion & equity division at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan.

During his meetings with students, staff and faculty, Huddleston said he was “really pleased with the level of authenticity … People have not held their tongues and that is really important to me because quite honestly, I have been to some other places and all I have heard about is how wonderful and exciting things are.

“People share with me some of the challenges,” he added. “But along with challenges they also share opportunities.”

Along with Huddleston, other finalists included Darcy Orellana, Joe-Joe McManus and Roland Davis.

Orellana, Affirmative Action Officer and Assistant Director of Human Resources at Middlesex Community College was the second of the candidates to be interviewed by the FSU community.

Orellana has her B.A. in education and french from Tufts University, her M.A. in community social psychology and her Ed. D. (ABD) in higher education administration from the University of Massachusetts Boston.

She said she wanted to focus on expanding the search committee training during her time at FSU. “If we can’t impact who we hire, and how we look at individuals and how we assess credentials, we are never going to be able to change the structural diversity on campus.”

McManus, executive director of Rootstrong and a Sr. Associate, Kingston Bay Group, was another candidate.

McManus has his Ph.D. in educational leadership from Florida A&M University, his M.A. in multicultural education and B.S. in psychology with a minor in space sciences from Florida Institute of technology.

McManus said a CDIO needs to be a “collaborative leader,” and added he would want to look at the benchmarks that exist and tweak them so the University could reach inclusive excellence.

He said, “This particular role is set up really well to be successful, and there is a lot of support. I get that there is resistance, but there is resistance everywhere, and there isn’t always support like there is here.”

Davis, an educational consultant, was the last candidate.

Davis has his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of New Hampshire, his Master of social work and clinical practice from Boston College, and is B.A. in history and sociology from Bates College.

As a CDIO, Davis would like to address retention and networking. He said FSU has “made progress in recruitment of staff and faculty that are of color or underrepresented groups.” However, Davis said a lot of work still needs to be done regarding student retention.

Fernando Rodriguez, a junior and leader of Student Leaders in Diversity, said he would like to see the CDIO diversify faculty and staff and address the campus climate data.

“Dealing with the climate data, it says that only white men feel safe on campus and that the retention rate for people of color has been dropping,” said Rodriguez.

He added he would like to see more open forums to create conversations about recent events like “the sexual assaults and the racist incidents that happen on campus. [Huddleston] has to take charge. Those things really, really need to matter.”

Cameron Zamagni, a junior and an intern at the Multicultural Center, said, “I would like to see an overhaul on a number of campus policies,” concerning sexual assaults and gender-neutral facility policies.

According to Zamagni, the CDIO should work with and for students because they are the “paying customers of this institution.

“The CDIO should look to students rather than faculty, staff, administration and executives for guidance on what to do and how to do it,” he added.

Regarding Huddleston, Zamagni said, “I think there was positive and negative to all candidates. … I have full faith in his abilities and I look forward to working with him.”

Jimmy McKeon, a senior, said, “I want them to engage with students like me – keep students informed. I know we have a diversity center, but I don’t know what goes on there.”

Colucci said, “I hope people are welcoming, cooperative and allow this person to do his job to the best of his ability. I really hope this campus embraces this position and this individual. It can really do wonderful things for us.”

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