Last week, the Review’s Editorial Board posited that the Stragetic Plan Implementation Committee for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion’s suggestion to add a chief diversity officer as “a roundabout way of handling the College’s diversity issues that would ultimately prove ineffective.” As a former member of SPIDIE, I shared similar concerns at the time of drafting, but my time working with the implementation group laid bare to me the necessity of someone with the dedication and administrative capacity to handle issues of diversity and inclusion.
When I left SPIDIE, it was composed of high-level administrators, well-respected faculty members, College staff and students whose goal was to collectively identify areas of diversity, equity and inclusion in need of improvement and to offer recommendations on how the institution could remedy them. This often proved a challenge, as many folks on SPIDIE, through little fault of their own, were stressed for time and unable to dedicate the necessary resources to keep the group running efficiently. What seemed like a perpetual mode of stagnation eventually led two faculty members to resign from the group and to pursue diversity work by other means.
The Editorial Board asserted that achieving greater diversity in higher education is imperative — a sentiment with which I agree wholeheartedly — but it can’t be reduced to an administrator’s side hustle. Another six-figure salary on the administrative team is worrisome in many ways, and I’m not confident in the notion that hiring a chief diversity officer will fill Oberlin’s current diversity gaps. However, the idea of someone having senior administrative oversight and the specific time to dedicate to making Oberlin a more diverse institution offers promise.
Many things could go wrong with hiring a CDO. Different constituencies within the Oberlin community could become lax in understanding their own individual responsibilities in making Oberlin a more diverse community. In that same vein, the CDO could be pigeonholed as the single individual on campus responsible for diversity work and treated as such. Still, opportunities for failure are accompanied by opportunities for success. A CDO could work as an effective liaison between various campus partners to prioritize long-term diversity initiatives, including a financial-model overhaul that would in turn allow Oberlin to be less tuition-dependent and go need-blind.
In reality, making Oberlin a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive community is more than the job of a CDO, special assistant to the president or even the president. It’s the responsibility of our entire community, from the admissions team continuing their work in making Oberlin more compositionally diverse to professors making sure their classrooms are accessible spaces to all students. As the Editorial Board wrote, “there are sacrifices that come with prioritizing diversity.” At some point, we’ll all have to sacrifice something in the name of diversity.