With the end of the semester approaching, the search committee tasked with finding a new chief diversity officer is closing in on possible candidates for the position.
The search committee will meet next week to identify applicants they would like to come in for interviews during the first week of May, said committee co-chair Warren Kelley.
“The search is going well,” Kelley said. “The search firm says there is a lot of interest expressed nationally about this position.” After becoming this university’s first chief diversity officer five years ago, Kumea Shorter-Gooden announced her resignation in January, and Cynthia Edmunds — a staff ombuds officer — became the interim position-holder. Though Edmunds is not one of the possible candidates for the position, she is a member of the search committee.
“My priority as the interim CDO has been to support the great work and partnerships that are already happening,” Edmunds wrote in an email. “We have many great colleagues across campus who care very deeply about sustaining a community and culture of respect for diversity and inclusion.”
Edmunds’ responsibilities include heading this university’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion and being involved with outreach efforts to reinforce the university’s commitment to diversity, such as meeting with the President’s Commission, Diversity Advisory Council and University Equity Council.
The chief diversity officer has other duties listed in its job description, such as evaluating and reporting progress of this university’s strategic plan for diversity.
Beth Douthirt Cohen, deputy chief diversity officer and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s education director, said the chief diversity officers’s role is “to look structurally and systemically and support efforts to make Maryland more inclusive in terms of diversity in representation, so we become a more diverse environment and also inclusive of the diverse population we have.”
In addition to her other duties, Shorter-Gooden participated in panels on issues about diversity, such as the Black Lives Matter movement and Rise Above grants, which are to be used to address bias issues. As the first chief diversity officer, Shorter-Gooden also created an infrastructure for diversity and inclusion in each college of this university.
The chief diversity officer looks at all facets of diversity — such as race, religion, gender, sexuality, immigration status, socioeconomic status and disability — and examines how these factors affect students’ experiences on the campus. Edmunds also works with all members of the campus community, including senior leadership, faculty, students and staff, and she sits on university President Wallace Loh’s cabinet.
“In service to campus, the CDO’s work has to be properly informed by the campus community,” Edmunds wrote.
Students can face certain barriers throughout college, and the CDO considers both “larger systemic barriers to being part of the community” and smaller-scale issues like “cultural or climate issues” in classroom environments, Cohen said.
“It can be everything from not being able to financially meet the needs of tuition for a lower socioeconomic status student to navigating higher education when you’re first in your family to go to go college,” she said.
Chief diversity officers are “content experts that are strong at advocating, influencing, cultivating, and being a change agent,” Edmunds wrote.
While other faculty and staff should also pursue this university’s goal of inclusion, it is important to have someone who is an expert and is accountable and effective in addressing issues of diversity, she said.
“It’s everyone’s job, but this is someone who really makes sure that occurs and supports that process,” she said.
Bria Goffney, a freshman sociology major, said the position is important because it heads the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
“The office itself is really important,” Goffney said. “The events they host makes the campus feel more open and welcoming, and that’s especially important for people that are minorities on campus.”
Goffney said the next chief diversity officer has to be open to listening to ideas of others.
“That person would have to be really receptive of all the different things they’re told and be able to make a good decision for the campus while protecting rights of individuals and marginalized groups,” she said.
Following closed interviews with applicants during the first week of May, the committee hopes to identify three or four finalists to return to the campus about a week later so students and other faculty can meet them, Kelley said.