Student Life Hires New Dean of Intercultural Engagement


Courtesy of Fairleigh Dickinson University

Earlier this week, the Office of the Dean of Students announced that Mark Sapara has been hired as Oberlin’s Assistant Vice President and Dean of Intercultural Engagement.

On Monday, Mark Sapara began work at Oberlin as assistant vice president and dean of intercultural engagement. He will oversee the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, the International Student Resource Center, Student Accessibility Services, and the Multicultural Resource Center. 

“He just comes with a very deep, deep understanding of diversity and equity issues that is always something that — as a hiring manager — I am looking for,” said Vice President and Dean of Students Karen Goff. “Not just people who pay lip service to the whole DEI thing but people who actually live it and perform it in practice. And so I think with his depth of knowledge in that area and what he has done at his previous institutions, I just thought he would just be such a value added to a community like Oberlin.”

Sapara hopes that the work he does at Oberlin can be informed by an exploration into diversity, equity, and inclusion practices and a constant reflection process. 

“I’ve worked with students throughout my career with different identities and multiple identities, and I’ve worked with communities of color, and I’ve worked with LGBTQ communities,” he said. “It brought me back to the discomfort that comes from the rules not being fair, and thinking of — to be quite honest — my place in the world as a white male, how I present, and then other identities that I don’t present, as a gay, Jewish male, and how I can make decisions based on some of that. … You can’t do this work if you’re not willing to take long, hard, painful looks at yourself and the world around you. I did a lot of that and continue to do a lot of that exploration.”

Sapara’s appointment will likely be the first of several new deans in the division of student life; in spring 2021, several deans in the division left within two months, including then-Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo. In September, when Goff began her position as the College’s new vice president and dean of students, she started working with preexisting hiring committees to fill these positions. Goff hopes to reenvision these roles as she fills them and create more transparency by renaming the roles to make it clear what each dean is actually responsible for. 

“If you think of the four deans that departed, there’s still those four lines that I have to fill, but the names are not going to sound the same,” Goff said. “You’re going to see a lot of that with some of the names of the things that I come up with. They’re replacing existing roles, but I’m expanding the job descriptions and making things more aligned with 21st-century practice.” 

Sapara was aware of how much turnover had happened in the division, and it was one of the things that attracted him to the position.

“That was part of the reason I wanted to come,” Sapara said. “In higher education, everybody knows Oberlin. People know what Oberlin has been, what it stands for, the activism, the sense of purpose. But you never get an opportunity to come and be part of the reimagining, revisioning, rebuilding of something at a place like this. It happens sometimes at other institutions. This is a rare moment that this happens at a place like Oberlin.”

Right now, Sapara is working to engage with Oberlin’s community in order to figure out what to prioritize during this time.

“The way I’m kind of attacking this is trying to meet as many people as I can at this point, because, you know, I come with this experience, but Oberlin is a different place, and you don’t come and just launch into something without understanding the place where you’re launching,” he said. “While I have all these ideas percolating in my head — meeting people, talking to people, find out what’s happened, what people want, where it’s going — that’s going to help me in shaping a vision for the way this division will look.”

Sapara hopes to work with Goff to include student perspectives as they begin the process of reimagining student life.  

“If we do this right, if we do this well, and we communicate this well with students and include them in the process, at the end of the rainbow is going to be something that looks really, really good and is going to be not just a revamp, but a new vision, a new idea,” he said.