Chief Diversity Officer Robin Means Coleman discusses student activism, vision for equity and demands


Graphic by Yunkyo Kim

Robin Means Coleman, chief diversity officer and vice president and associate provost for diversity and inclusion. The Daily spoke to Coleman about Northwestern’s plans for diversity and equity in hiring and response to police abolition protests.

Yunkyo Kim, Campus Editor

In late March, members of The Daily’s editorial board sat down with Robin Means Coleman, chief diversity officer and vice president and associate provost for diversity and inclusion. Coleman talked through Northwestern’s plans for equity and inclusion, police abolition and student demands. A University spokesperson was not present. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

The Daily: In your previous position at Texas A&M University, you implemented the university’s Diversity Plan. Do you have any similar plans for Northwestern?

Coleman: In fact, that is probably the number one priority, which is to develop a university strategic plan. The thing about Northwestern is that diversity, equity and inclusion lives in every corner of the institution. And so, Northwestern in some ways is a national leader in that regard. What’s terrific about what my job will be is to really help coordinate all of the wonderful efforts that are going on here at Northwestern. And in some cases, it will be better highlighting and showcasing some of the terrific things that are happening in the unit, particularly as it pertains to recruitment, retention, improved climate and belonging.

The Daily: What are your goals for diversity in hiring?

Coleman: The possibility here is to start a faculty hiring pipeline program called Idea, Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accountability. We like acronyms. And at my previous institution, there was a significant investment.

The Daily: How do you view your role as the new chief diversity officer amid the ongoing student protests that claim the University is failing in Black students?

Coleman: It’s not for debate. We absolutely should be engaging with every corner of our community and saying that we play a role not only in making the lives of our students better within these walls but we are also the researchers and policymakers for what happens locally And then the state as well. And so these conversations, this activism, absolutely has to happen.

The Daily: How do you see the NU Community Not Cops protests informing national discourse around police abolition?

Coleman: What I do like about this movement, both at Northwestern and around the country, is that it’s continuing to shine a light on the ways in which our country has failed us and its investments, in pulling back from social programs and hyper investing — it turned our community safety officers into a kind of militarized force. And I think there’s a third piece here, the police themselves, because they were oddly enough facing budget cuts and defunding — they were forced to walk through that door. So I think that’s what’s important about the movement and I think there’s a lot of moving parts about the ways in which police sought and secured funding and the ways in which social programs were defunded. And then the ways in which we can redirect those funds to better support our communities outside of a police response.

The Daily: Is there anything else you want to communicate to the Northwestern community?

Coleman: I am just really proud of this community. I talked a lot about activism, revolutionary acts and the ways in which that happens in higher education. And I’m proud that Northwestern is sort of leading in those areas. I think that there are other great numbers of not only our peer institutions but institutions of higher education across the country that can look to us for leadership around the ways in which we inform diversity, equity and inclusion. And I think we have an opportunity to step into that role powerfully, decisively in shared commitment and responsibility. So it isn’t just within these walls, but we have a way of informing the national if not international discourse.

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