Northwestern answers student petition with new diversity officer

Paulina Firozi, Campus Editor

Last winter, students petitioned for one administrator dedicated to improving diversity at Northwestern. Since Friday’s announcement of a new director for campus inclusion and community, they now have two.

NU’s Division of Student Affairs has named Lesley-Ann Brown to the new position, vice president for student affairs Patricia Telles-Irvin announced Friday in an email to incoming students. Brown last served as a program adviser to the Department of Multicultural Services at Texas A&M University. Brown joins Dona Cordero, the assistant provost for diversity and inclusion, as the second diversity administrator appointed since the beginning of Spring Quarter.

“Among some of her responsibilities, (Brown) will be overseeing the RespectNU website, where bias incidents can be reported; developing opportunities for ongoing intercultural dialogues; working with students, staff and faculty to enhance our campus climate; and providing cultural competence training,” Telles-Irvin wrote. “She will be reporting directly to me.”

Some students have been hoping for a diversity position since last year, when outcry over racial insensitivity rocked campus. Following the harassment of a Latina student during Winter Quarter, students who would later be members of Associated Student Government’s diversity committee and NU 4 Diversity Now drafted a petition that called for the addition of social and cultural academic requirements as well as a chief diversity officer.

The University appointed Cordero, already an NU administrator,  as the assistant provost for diversity and inclusion in April, tasking her with heading the University Diversity Council. A “Beer Olympics” party later that month — when students dressed in cultural costumes while playing beer pong — brought tensions to a head. It was then that the petition became more public.

Months later, it seems Cordero was not the only diversity officer the administration had in mind.

The director of campus inclusion and community position was first brought to the attention of the University Diversity Council in June, said Hayley Stevens, the ASG’s associate vice president for diversity inclusion. A search committee was established to fill the role by Sept. 1.

While Cordero’s position is a more administrative role, Brown will act as a liaison to students, Stevens said.

“I’d like to think that… she’ll be very familiar with a lot of students across campus, a lot of people will recognize and know her, and she’s not going to be a stranger,” the Weinberg senior said.

Stevens added that Telles-Irvin was always candid about the creation of the new position and wanting to make sure students were a part of the selection process.

“I praise her work in finding and creating this job because I think it’s something that can really help,” Stevens said.

Stevens believes Brown is exactly what students were looking for in their petition. Stevens recalled discussing qualifications with Communication senior Jazzy Johnson, chair of Coalition of Colors and a member of the selection committee.

“Jazzy and I once said what we would love is to have someone who is experienced enough to be really accountable and just truly fulfill the job requirement, who is also young and fresh enough to understand students,” she said. “We definitely think we’ve found that in Ms. Brown. I think she’s going to try as hard as she can as a liaison.”

As Brown works to develop a relationship with students, Cordero will interact with members of the diversity council, Stevens said. Cordero’s responsibilities include running the diversity council and its five subcommittees, Stevens added.

The five “working groups” were originally suggested in an internal diversity report completed by faculty and student focus groups in September that was, according to NU officials, never meant for the public eye.

The student petition also asked for the release of the 46-page diversity report. The report, released April 26, included recommendations on how to improve diversity at NU.

The report outlined subcommittees that would address issues in specific areas of diversity: Academic/Education, Campus Life, Faculty Recruitment and Retention, Pipeline and Lifetime Connections.

The diversity council that Cordero now runs includes students, graduate students, professors, faculty and alumni, Stevens said. This council, she explained, is separate from the ASG diversity committee created last year in response to several incidents of racial insensitivity.

Still, Stevens said NU would have needed a director of campus inclusion and community regardless of those incidents.

“(Patricia Telles-Irvin) would have created this position even if nothing had happened because diversity is something that is really important to her,” she said. “Yes, of course it probably aided in having the position created, but it didn’t totally rely on it.”