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New Office Opens Door to Greater Diversity

What the Office for Diversity and Inclusion has in store

As the recently appointed associate provost of SCU’s new Office for Diversity and Inclusion (ODI), Aldo Billingslea—a professor in the Theatre and Dance Department—finds himself cast in a familiar role.

“What we do in theater is collaborate,” he explained. “And that’s what this new office is all about.”

The ODI, which officially opened last fall, aims to promote and cultivate a campus-wide climate of diversity and inclusion. “Working with different departments, we’ll provide guidance for faculty search committees and recruiters, ensuring that they feel culturally competent to bring the most diverse workforce and student population to the school,” said Billingslea. “The idea is to increase the yield of candidate pools—and once here, our goal is to ensure that everyone feels he or she is a valued and contributing member of our community.”

Under the auspices of the Provost’s Office, the ODI is located in the Walsh Administration Building and has just expanded. Jesse Bernal, who served as the university-wide Diversity Coordinator at the University of California President’s Office, was just hired as program director and will help design strategies for the recruitment and retention of underrepresented groups among other duties. A welcome reception will be held in the Walsh Administration building lobby Jan. 24 at 4 p.m.

Billingslea began laying the groundwork for collaboration as soon as the office was formed by embarking on a “listening tour” to gain insights about diversity and inclusion from various SCU department members. “There were questions and some challenges,” he noted, “but, the good news is that there are so many really good people on this campus who are willing to put their shoulders to the wheel and contribute to a more diverse climate.”

The office will sponsor programs and events to advance that goal. The ODI collaborated with other campus units on two special activities this week: a tribute to Nelson Mandela on Monday, including dramatic readings by Billingslea, and a performance—“Color Struck”—on Tuesday by comedian Donald Lacy on institutionalized racism.

In addition to lending support for related inter-departmental events, the ODI will initiate programs of its own. Plans include a “toolkit” to be used in hiring faculty and a series of workshops for deans, department chairs, and search committees.

“We value the fact that people from all different kinds of groups bring different abilities with them,” said Billingslea. “Those are all things that make our campus richer ... When a teacher knows that a student has a different ability, he or she often makes an accommodation for that student; when that happens, it improves the learning environment for the entire class.”

The ODI leader acknowledged that increasing awareness about diversity and inclusion takes time. “In all the training I’ve done, one important point is that this type of work requires patience and long-term commitment,” he explained. “And, it most often succeeds when there is support from the top.” Finding that critical, high-level support, said Billingslea, is not an issue at SCU. “President Engh and Provost Dennis Jacobs believe in our mission and have been extremely helpful from the very start.”

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