Gatepost Interview: Sean Huddleston, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer

(Photo by Melina Bourdeau)

Can you briefly describe your resume and educational background?

I have a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies from Sienna Heights University, which is located in Adrian, Michigan. However, the bulk of my undergraduate work was done at Alabama State University, which is a historically black college located in Montgomery, Alabama. I chose interdisciplinary studies because, quite honestly, I didn’t know really what I wanted to do. I have a master’s degree in education from Grand Valley State University with an emphasis in adult and higher education. I also have a post-master’s degree, which is another graduate degree, called an educational specialist degree, with a focus in leadership. That really is a degree that is primarily geared toward K12 education, but the reason that I wanted that degree is because of the work I do in diversity inclusion. I wanted to understand more about the educational pipeline, kind of the cradle-to-college pipeline, to get a good background understanding of what happens in the world of students, particularly under-represented or marginalized students in the K12 environment, and their preparation for college was fascinating to me, so that second degree helped with the continuum.

In terms of my resume itself, this is my 23rd year doing work in diversity inclusion. I actually started doing work with corporations on developing strategies and ways to help to create and imbed diversity inclusion from an organizational development perspective, trying to help people understand what the value proposition is for having a focus on diversity inclusion, both in the human resource world, but also in our supplier world. I became kind of one of the people in the country focused on supplier diversity, working with minority and women-owned businesses, and helping those businesses, and veteran-owned and LGBT-owned businesses, gain access to the supply bases and supply chains of organizations, and working with the corporations to get them to understand the value of bringing them in.

Back in 2009, I had the opportunity to teach for Cornell University, in their certified diversity professional program. I taught a class on supplier diversity, and that really was the thing that introduced me to higher education. Working with Cornell University made me recognize that this work really should happen in a very dynamic way on college campuses, because everything else is really kind of cleanup work. When people graduate and they get to workforce, and spend many years in the workforce, doing diversity and inclusion work there is trying to undo all the thinking and all the mindsets that have been built for many years. But, if you can do it at the college level, and get people to go into the workforce already thinking about inclusion and thinking about diversity, then it becomes a lot easier to make it happen on a corporate level, and then with non-profit organizations, or colleges, or K12, anywhere students want to go and work. So that’s when I made the conversion over to higher education. Prior to coming to Framingham State University, I was at Grand Valley State University – first as their director of intercultural training, learning and development, and then I was promoted to the assistant vice president for strategic implementation of diversity and inclusion strategies.

Can you tell me about one of your biggest accomplishments?

Personally, my son just graduated with his bachelor’s degree from Grand Valley State University, my oldest son Blake. He got his bachelor’s degree in sports leadership, and I just love the fact that my son graduated, especially since African-American males graduate from college at a far lower rate than any other population. So as a young African-American male, to have accomplished that, I think that’s phenomenal and a personal point of pride for myself and my wife. Professionally, one of my greatest accomplishments was the development of a model for supplier diversity management that is still used today in corporations, that has been cited and developed throughout time, so that is something that I’m pretty proud of.

Are you currently working on any projects?

We are very excited that we are working on a bias-incident policy and protocols to support faculty and staff, and we want to support students as well. That is one of the major things we want to get done fairly early, is provide a means for students, faculty and staff to report bias incidents that they have either experienced or witnessed, and then have a method to review them, investigate them, and ultimately develop a plan of action to address them. That’s a pretty important project we are working on. The other project that is pretty heavily focused on is developing the inclusive excellence score-card. The inclusive excellence is a model that is nationally recognized as an approach to imbedding inclusion throughout the institution. There are four areas of inclusive excellence. One is access inequity. The second is diversity in the curriculum and the co-curriculum. The third area is the campus climate and then the fourth area is learning and development. We want to be able to use this model as an approach to creating a state of inclusion, or inclusive excellence, throughout the institution. We want to roll it out, and have all divisions and departments and groups to use this model as they are thinking and planning their work. The third project is that we are going to re-launch the multicultural center as the center for inclusive excellence. In addition to the wonderful work that is already being done at the multicultural center that is led by Kathy Martinez, we will be adding some additional initiatives and strategies to support that model of inclusive excellence.

What would students be surprised to know about you?

I’m pretty much an open book. One thing that students might find interesting is that I’m a pretty avid amateur cook. I watch all of the cooking shows that come on, and I mean all of them … so I enjoy those and I try to work on the different recipes that come out. Having gone to college in the south, I became very much a fan of southern cooking, particularly soul food. What I try to do is recreate some soul food dishes to be healthy, so taking out some of the ingredients that aren’t as healthy but still trying to maintain the taste.

Do you have any hobbies?

My wife and I are going into our 22nd year of marriage, and she and I love to explore new areas and try new things. We always try to go to new restaurants, and just discover new areas and things that are off the beaten path. I spend a lot of time with my family, and with our sons, trying to do things with them and introduce them to new and exciting experiences. We haven’t done a lot of travel abroad, but within the state of Massachusetts, we will probably try to learn different places to go. We just think it’s important to understand our area.

Do you do volunteer work then?

I do. I’m a member of a couple national organizations, one is actually a fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity. There is a huge component that is focused on community service and leadership development for youth. I’ve been an active volunteer for the boys and girls club for many years, as well as the united way.

What advice would you give students?

The advice that I would give is to be the change you that you want to see. Certainly participate in the opportunities to create a climate and an environment that is inclusive of everyone. Often times we have great powers of observation. We see what’s going on, but we don’t actually participate in the solution, so being solution-focused is important. The second piece of advice that I would give to students is to make sure you start building your network now. Identify professionals, people who have already achieved your career goals or are working in the career you want to be in. Connect with them, and open yourself to mentorship and networking with them so that your path is easier when you graduate.