OTC: Zahida Sherman, Multicultural Resource Center Director


Meg Parker

Zahida Sherman

Zahida Sherman stepped into her new role as director of Oberlin’s Multicultural Resource Center on Monday, Feb. 18. Most recently, Sherman was an assistant director of Black Student Success at the University of the Pacific. She has also worked as an associate development coordinator for Diversity and Inclusion at Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP in Los Angeles, and as an assistant director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Kenyon College. Sherman earned her BA in anthropology from Ithaca College and her Master’s degree in history from Northwestern University.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity

How are you finding Oberlin so far?

So far? You know, this is day four — beginning of day four — so far so good. I’m settled into a new space, settled into a beautiful house. Everyone has been very nice, very helpful, and very brilliant. Y’all are very inspiring, so it’s exciting.

How do you think your previous professional experiences have prepared you for this role?

So I’ve worked in diversity [and] inclusion a lot, almost a decade, mostly in higher education at a similar kind of institution — at Kenyon College for four years. After that, [I did] some similar but kind of industry work for a law firm doing diversity [and] inclusion work for a couple years, and then supporting students of African descent for the last two years at the University of the Pacific in California. So with all of that, I think I have a pretty keen understanding of diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, advocacy, and social justice. I think it makes [me] a nice fit for this position.

What type of culture do you hope to create in this space?

I hope that when people come here they feel welcome and, regardless of their identities — plural — they feel like they can belong here and they can be supported here in their advocacy, in their exploration of their own identities, and just figuring out who they’re becoming.

What type of improvements would you like to see in the MRC? Do you have any specific plans or goals that you’d like to carry out?

Like I mentioned, this is day four, so I don’t have a thorough list. There are some technical things that aren’t super exciting — there are some repairs to the house. It’s kind of a spectrum of improvements, I think just getting more visibility to the MRC. I understand there have been some transitions in the last six months-plus, so kind of reintroducing the MRC to the campus community is going to be an immediate goal over the next, I would say, 30–60 days, just so people can get familiar again with the space and what we do.

What can students expect from you as the new director of the MRC?

I think students can expect transparency. I pride myself on being pretty genuine and pretty thoughful and honest in my interactions with people. I really value transparency, and it sounds like people value that here too, so I’m happy for that fit. People can expect that I will listen to them and hear their perspectives, hear their input. I’m very open to suggestions for programming or speakers and things like that. Even little things — well, to me they’re not little things — but I’m very sensitive to space and energy, so even suggestions as far as how the space can be better utilized, from adding plants to redesigning layouts and things like that. I’m very open.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I think it’s worth saying I’m happy to be here, I’m excited to be here, and I’m very collaborative. I know that the school is gearing up for some tighter budgetary moves, and I know that brings a lot of unease. I will be as transparent with folks as possible through that transition. And it’s really important to me that the MRC serves this campus community to the best of its ability, even through these transitions.