Amherst Welcomes Chief Diversity Officer Norm Jones
Issue   |   Thu, 09/01/2016 - 21:23

President Biddy Martin announced the selection of Dr. Norm Jones as the College’s chief diversity officer to the Amherst community in an email on June 16. Jones officially joined the college staff on July 15.

Jones was selected after a nearly year-long search following the resignation of the former interim chief diversity officer and director of the Multicultural Resource Center, Mariana Cruz, last October. The search was led by a committee comprised of students, faculty and staff that held open campus-wide discussions and meetings with candidates throughout the year.

In an email interview, Jones said that he was drawn to Amherst College’s leadership in diversity and inclusion in higher education, the opportunity to gauge students’ needs directly through closer personal relationships and the sustained racial diversity within the student body.

“The question now becomes how such a diverse student body can become the source of sustainable inclusive practices that all students experience,” Jones said. “I see it as my role to ask the questions, collect the information and frame our conversations in ways that allow us to gauge inclusiveness and act on what we learn.”

Prior to joining the college, Jones was the associate chief diversity officer, deputy director and creator of the office of diversity and inclusion at Harvard University. Before that, he had been the associate vice president and dean of institutional diversity at Dickinson College. Amherst’s search committee hired consultants from the search firm Isaacson, Miller last year, who identified Jones along with several other candidates for the position.

“Dr. Jones is judicious, thoughtful and very insightful about the challenges and opportunities that the college faces with regard to diversity and inclusion,” search committee co-chair and Dean of the Faculty Catherine Epstein said in an email interview. “He is very data-driven in his approach, and this bodes well for the systemic change that we all hope that he’ll bring to the college.”

“I am truly upset that my time at Amherst does not overlap with Norm Jones’,” Miu Suzuki ’16, a member of last year’s search committee, said. “Regardless of the context, he is authentic and personable.”

Epstein also said that she and Jones have already begun meeting with faculty search committees to plan diversifying the faculty, which Jones listed as one of his goals in an email he sent to the college community on July 22. Jones has also met with staff from various administrative departments to improve systems for addressing workplace bias and better career and promotion tracks to create “an inclusive work experience” for college employees.

“Recruitment and retention of women and minority staff and faculty is a concern [Jones] should prioritize,” Suzuki said. “From the clasroom to our departments and offices, they are the institutional framework that can be anchors of change. These daily points of contact should reflect the diversity of the student body, and the promotion of a diverse staff and faculty cannot stop at hiring.”

Jones said that he noticed a desire from students from various identity and affinity groups to have more dialogue both between and within those groups.

He plans to launch a series of focus groups this year to address this concern. Jones added that he hopes that discussion on issues traditionally ascribed to specific identity groups will not remain confined to those groups but rather be discussed more broadly at the college.

“Institutions of higher learning have explicit responsibilities to teach students academically first and foremost, but also [teach students] how to live in community with one another, how to negotiate difficult dialogues and inquire in responsible and civil ways,” he said. “For the most part, the larger culture doesn’t teach this nor encourage it.”

Regarding what he hopes to accomplish this academic year, Jones said that he has many ideas, but will first use existing plans, such as the college’s strategic plan, as a starting point.

“The funny thing about plans is that they hinge upon little to no disruption,” Jones said. “The climate in the country is emotionally charged and polarized. This is a reality we must acknowledge in our world and on our campus.”

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