Home Education Ohio University zeroes in on final candidates for Diversity and Inclusion position

Ohio University zeroes in on final candidates for Diversity and Inclusion position

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In the era of universities in high competition with each other in terms of areas like academics, sports and top notch recruitment, Ohio University begun the process of finding a new Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion last week with the evaluation of its three finalist candidates.

Over the course of the week, the three finalists, Angeles Eames, hailing from Northeastern Illinois University; Shari Clarke, from Marshall University; and John Bello-Ogunu, of the College of Charleston, addressed students, staff and faculty at various forums so audience members could evaluate and participate directly in the selection process.

Angeles Eames 

Eames, who currently serves as the special assistant to the provost at NIU, is a Chicagoan who highlights the importance of diversity recruitment and outreach as early as possible, citing challenges and programs she lead to garner students from multiple backgrounds to build a more diverse collegiate community.

“(Diversity) starts from the very beginning, from the recruitment process with faculty to student recruitment. I think that everyone has talent, and yours might be different than mine,” she said.

“Other universities are competing for these same people. Someone is going to hire them, so it might as well be OU.”

As far as recruiting students, Eames stressed the importance of community, believing that there is no better place to start looking for talented, diverse students than the surrounding area.

“There is opportunity for growth in Athens; There’s opportunity for growth at OU. We might as well be the recipients of these excellent students,” she said, citing that it is the university’s responsibility to not only recruit students, but make them feel welcomed. “In order to obtain them, they have to feel at home here. They have to feel in a sense like this a haven of hospitality.”

According to Eames, diversity and inclusion should not be goals set just to meet a standard or even just to meet the needs to underrepresented students. They are qualities that faculty should be passionate about and should serve all students, both the majority and the minorities.

“If you have an institution without diversity, you’re doing a disservice to the students,” she said.

Eames said that if hired, her goal would be to collaborate with department heads and administrators to inspire those in hiring positions to work toward these goals.

“Our job isn’t to tell people who to hire. Our job is to say ‘you’re interested in bringing in diverse faculty and diverse students, here are places that might help you to achieve your goal.’”

Questions arose that touched on the problem of over represented students not feeling the need to expose themselves to diversity as well as faculty that does not feel that diversity is a problem. Eames explained that being in charge of these issues at OU, she would work to make faculty aware of the need to diversify and encourage students to collaborate to share their perspectives with each other.

“As a parent I want my children to succeed above all else. We need to be there preparing students for global leadership. Society changes around you, and if you’re not prepared, you’re going to be left out.”

Shari Clarke 

Serving as the vice president of multicultural affairs at neighboring Marshall University for the past five years, Clarke is no stranger to the challenges of diversity inclusion on college campuses, especially in ones like OU or Marshall that are set in rural communities. Clarke applied her accomplishments at Marshall to her plan for OU.

“When you get individuals who are not used to diversity, we have to sell them on it. We have to tell them the importance and value of who we are as people and what it is we do.”

Clarke highlighted programs she helped grow at Marshall that can be implemented at OU because of the schools’ similarities. Working at the head of multicultural affairs, Clarke helped aid the lack of diverse faculty by bringing in diverse speakers to fill in the gaps.

“I can bring in experts to kind of give us more diversity and expand what’s happening in the curriculum,” she said.

The purpose of diversifying faculty is not just to give students more perspectives, Clarke said, although that is an extremely important aspect.

“I don’t care where you go, it’s really important that you see yourself reflected somewhere on this campus. If it’s through an administrator or through a faculty member, you all need to see yourself somewhere, because then you feel more comfortable and you can go ‘this is my institution and I can fit here,’” she said.

Clarke explained that her passion for helping diversity came from her many years as a student.

“…No matter what I do it’s always the areas of diversities that hold interest with me; always folks that have been historically underrepresented or who are not seated at the table or who do not have a voice. That’s just where my heart is.”

If chosen for the position, Clarke reiterated plans that she gleaned from her work at Marshall, but recognized that OU, while similar in many ways, is its own institution with different challenges and a different culture.

“I plan on meeting with everybody and talking about diversity; meeting with deans and departments and faculty and other administrators to find out what’s going on here, what it is we need to do better and how can I help you to do it,” she said. “I’m going to have an open-door policy so I can know what’s going on in the life of the campus with students.”

Meeting and making connections with faculty and staff, and doing whatever she can to keep the university in constant discussion about diversity and inclusion issues and giving everyone fair representation, were passionate goals for Clarke.

“I don’t separate the personal from the professional. Doing the work that I do is really an extension of who I am. It’s just me.”

John Bello-Ogunu

Bello-Ogunu, a 1990 Ohio University graduate, expressed excitement at the possibility of getting to “return home,” mentioning that he and his wife both graduated from OU, lived in Athens and had their first son right in O’Bleness Hospital. In addition, his presentation for his candidacy focused on the goal of “inclusive excellence.”

Bello-Ogunu has been serving as the associate vice president and chief diversity officer at the College of Charleston in Charleston, SC. since 2010.

“Inclusive excellence is a university’s commitment to achieving its primary mission of recruiting, retaining, educating and graduating a globally-educated citizen who can function productively in today’s 21st century world,” he said.

Inclusive excellence is both a process and an art, Bello-Ogunu explained. As a process, the university must ensure that the methodologies, curriculum and all aspects of university life reflect inclusion.

“It takes a village to raise a child. Similarly, it takes a campus committed to recruit, retain, educate and graduate the whole student, especially the multicultural student,” Bello-Ogunu said.

If chosen for the position, he outlined a step-by-step process to help the university achieve inclusive excellence that involves learning what has been done and what already works, providing a vision for how the university can face the challenges it has; to help encourage staff to engage the campus in inter-group dialogue; assess what is in place and finally to create a blueprint that provides the university with the tools it needs to become as diverse and inclusive as possible.

“This job requires the candidate to be several things: A diversity architect and custodian, a bridge-builder, a peace maker and a consultant.”

Bello-Ogunu, like Eames, stressed that working toward these goals should be in everyone’s interest, and not just seen as a “need to do” assignment.

“(Inclusive excellence) is an intentional and purposeful assignment for every member of the institution, that respects diversity, recognizes diversity and therefore appreciates and embraces (it) as essential to conducting the business of educating and preparing our students for the world that we live in.”

The process for assessing any institution’s needs, he alluded to, was a detailed yet simple process.

“If chosen, I will come in and go through the steps of ‘Here is where we are now, here is our challenges, this is where we want to go and this is the way we are going to go to get their as a community.’”

Ohio University began to the search for a new vice provost of diversity and inclusion after Brian Bridges left the position in early 2012. Since his departure, the position has been filled on an interim basis by David Descutner, executive vice provost and dean of University College.

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