The Office of Equity and Inclusion hosted the first of the three open forums with finalist candidates for the position of Vice President of Equity and Inclusion and Title IX Officer on Monday, Nov. 6 from 4:15 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. over Zoom. Alison Williams, who previously held the position, left the University in October 2022, and the University has been working to fill the vacancy since.
Since Williams left the Office of Equity and Inclusion, Assistant Vice President for Equity & Inclusion and Title IX Coordinator Debbie Colucci and Dean for Academic Equity, Inclusion and Success April Ruiz have served as the interim vice presidents. The administrative assistant role is also unfilled.
The Office for Equity and Inclusion works to promote and create a campus culture that is respectful of diversity, serving students, faculty and staff of all identities and backgrounds. Part of the Office for Equity and Inclusion’s work includes fostering conversations and initiatives that promote inclusion and breaking down barriers to ensure each student receives an equitable and inclusive educational experience.
The new Vice President will be a member of the President’s Cabinet and report directly to President Michael Roth ’78. Their responsibilities will include overseeing the Office for Equity and Inclusion and working with the Office of Academic Affairs to address Americans with Disability Act (ADA) concerns and curricular innovations. They will also collaborate with the Office of Student Affairs and Human Resources, focusing on sustaining affirmative action, equal opportunity hiring practices, and the University’s non-discrimination and anti-harassment processes.
“We are looking for a strategic leader with the skills and experience to formalize and foster an on-going culture of diversity, equity and inclusion, accessibility, and belonging within the campus community,” Colucci wrote in an email to The Argus. “[We are also looking for] someone who will inspire and lead the Wesleyan community toward a shared vision of an institution that is welcoming, inclusive, and respectful and which celebrates inclusivity as a foundation for institutional excellence.”
According to the public job description on Careers@Wes for the Vice President of Equity and Inclusion, the University is seeking a visionary, collaborative leader to develop a university-wide equity and inclusion (E&I) plan which is intersectional and appreciates the vast diversity of identity on campus.
“The vice president will collect and leverage E&I-related campus data to advance dialogue, initiatives, and actions and create a clear and comprehensive structure for the work,” the website says. “This leader will stay abreast of E&I best practices and partner to provide or recommend relevant training for students, faculty, and staff and promote a culture of inclusion that helps to boost retention for all campus stakeholders.”
The search committee is made up of the following individuals: Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Nicole Stanton; Vice President for Student Affairs Michael Whaley; Vice President for Communications Renell Wynn; Chief of Staff & Director of Strategic Planning Anne Laskowski; George I. Seney Professor of Geology Martha Gilmore; Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and Engagement Initiatives Intern Dia Fortenberry; Director of Talent Acquisition and Employment Anjali Tamhankar; and Chair of Equity & Inclusion Committee of the Wesleyan Student Assembly Elena Brennan ’24.
Additionally, the University is partnering with the firm Isaacson, Miller to aid in the search for the new Vice President as the process reaches its final stretch. After several “scoping meetings” hosted on campus in the previous school year, the three finalists will be welcomed on campus again to familiarize and integrate themselves with the University.
In addition to on-campus visits, the three finalists are also be hosting open Zoom forums featuring introductions, presentations, and Q&A sessions for University members. Dean Stanton proposed an opening question for candidates to consider: “What are some key issues/strategies for offices of equity and inclusion on today’s campus?”
The first Zoom meeting introduced Willette Burnham Williams, a candidate who was previously Chief Equity Officer at the Medical University of South Carolina. During her presentation, Williams proposed a one-year strategy for diversity, equity and inclusion in addition to a 90-day plan that will prioritize communication, AI management, connection, and resourcefulness.
“The first thing I would do is begin by just embracing the culture that is Wesleyan University,” Williams said.
The next two candidates will be revealed in upcoming Zoom meetings from 4 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. on Thursday, November 9 and at 4:15 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, November 13, when additional open forums will be held. Zoom links can be found in a campus-wide email sent on Friday, Nov. 3 by the Search Committee.