On July 1, Professor Lakesia Johnson, English and Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies, will take the position of chief diversity officer and associate dean of the College, in the latest of many changes made to Grinnell’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion in recent years.
Johnson’s new role, and other changes to Diversity and Inclusion, were announced via a Special Campus Memo sent out on March 30. These changes are the continuation of a number of restructuring moves in line with President Raynard Kington’s re-envisioning diversity at Grinnell as an academically-focused department. Two years ago the Department of Intercultural Engagement and Leadership was moved under Academic Affairs and both Vice President for Diversity and Achievement Elena Bernal ’94 and Director of Intercultural Engagement and Leadership Michael Benitez left. Their positions were discontinued, as reported in the February 22, 2013 edition of The S&B.
“My goal is to continue the work already begun by numerous faculty, staff and students who have spent numerous years working on this goal,” Johnson wrote in an email to The S&B.
Current chief diversity officer Poonam Arora will step down from her role on July 1 and will continue to pursue her educational interests as a faculty member in the humanities and social science divisions, according to the memo.
Arora declined to comment to The S&B for this article. Once she takes the position in Diversity and Inclusion, Johnson will inherit several tasks and responsibilities.
Acording to the Campus Memo, “First, [Johnson] will have primary responsibility and oversight for diversity initiatives related to faculty recruitment, hiring, retention and development … she will provide leadership in evaluating the relationship of the curriculum to diversity [sic] and promote opportunities for faculty to improve their teaching and advising of diverse student populations.”
The memo additionally describes Johnson as “well-qualified” for the role, based on her previous experience.
“My role as Director of Women’s Programs and Affirmative Action at Denison University, a small liberal arts college in Ohio, taught me quite a bit about doing this type of work. My legal training along with my training in the field of Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies has provided me with a strong foundation. More importantly, my experience as a tenured member of the Grinnell College faculty and my strong connections with others who are committed to moving us forward in this area will help tremendously,” Johnson wrote.
Despite her seasoned experiences as an administrator similar to her upcoming role, Johnson foresees a few challenging tasks ahead.
“The first challenge is attracting a diverse campus community of students, staff and faculty,” Johnson wrote. “Even more important is the challenging task of creating a campus climate and environment that affords all of us the opportunity to benefit from and contribute to those things that make Grinnell a top liberal arts college.”
Another change in the diversity office is the creation of a new position—associate dean of students and director of Intercultural Affairs—which will report to Andrea Conner, associate vice president of Student Affairs. Among other responsibilities, the new hire will work as a liaison between the College and the Posse Program, a longstanding full-tuition scholarship program that brings scholars from Washington D.C. and New Orleans to Grinnell, and will assist in the supervision of the full-time staff members in Student Affairs.
Conner could not be reached for comment for this article.
In response to a request for an interview, Kington suggested Michael Latham, dean of the college, was more suited to talk about the changes. Latham assisted in the new changes that will take place after the academic year.
“While I believe that the diversity restructuring in academic affairs and student affairs is a very good step for the College, I’m unable to make further public comments about it at this time,” Latham wrote in an email to The S&B.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story stated that Andrea Conner was the new associate dean of students and director of Intercultural Affairs. That position will report to Andrea Conner; she was not hired for it. We regret the error.