As new leadership makes their way into the Office of Outreach, Equity and Inclusion (OOIE), new initiatives for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) work are incoming. Their work entails a multitude of responsibilities and their tour is the first step in creating a new beginning for the office, building upon the efforts of Dean of Outreach Bill Woodson and Associate Professor of Sociology Queen Zabriskie. The “Envisioning Excellence” Listening Tour is first in a series of events aiming to engage the New College community members in conversations about what DEI work has been done, needs to be done and what people want to have done on campus.
The listening tour consisted of five sessions that took place over the course of two weeks—Oct.5 to Oct. 11—around multiple locations on campus. With a clear initiative to hear opinions and desires, the new leaders of the OOIE designed stations where those attending can share their thoughts and experiences to start mapping the development of the OOIE as a whole.
“We’re under construction,” Dean of DEI and Chief Diversity Officer Yoleidy Rosario-Hernandez stated. “We have inherited a lot of different pieces and we’re trying to figure it out. And so I want people to know that we’re here, that we’re visible, that we want to be present and we need time and grace to build a foundation. We want to be co-creators in how that ‘under construction’ further develops and that’s the ‘envisioning’ part. We want you to be involved in how to imagine who we want to become—what the end product should be—come join us in figuring that out, your voice is equally as important in that process.”
In the various sessions at College Hall, ACE lounge and Hamilton Classroom 7 (HCL7) Rosario-Hernandez, Director of Community Outreach Syria Purdom and Program Coordinator Crishuana Williams engaged community members in a workshop of sorts.
Questions were presented to those attending and conversation ensued, ranging from providing more support to students and faculty to creating more spaces on campus for students to express their identities freely. Participants even discussed whether the name of the OOIE should remain as it is or if there was a name that they felt better encompassed the direction of which the office is heading.
“When I envision it, the words that come to mind are ‘welcoming,’ ‘community,’ ‘accessibility,’ ‘visual’—meaning in your face—and ‘recognized,’” Purdom detailed. “Those are just some of the words that come to mind when I envision this space and who we want to be and how we want to be seen.”
“The listening tour for me was an opportunity for me to gauge the climate here on this campus and learn about some of the historical challenges or issues that have not been dealt with,” Purdom continued. “Great ideas are born from these kinds of forums, people having the courage to show up and be vulnerable.”
The listening tour sessions stand as a means to begin a very much needed conversation at New College. “Envisioning Excellence” at its core is to reimagine what and how DEI work should look like on campus. Rosario-Hernandez regularly visits affinity group meetings and events, making zir’s presence well-known within the community in the first few months at New College.
“I think our listening tour is an active intention for us to create a campus conversation around imagining what our office should be for our campus,” Rosario-Hernandez announced. “It’s a place for imagination, it is a place of dialogue, it is a place of problem solving so that we can figure out what the heartbeat of our office should be.”
The listening tours are far from over. The OOIE plans on conducting more of these open forums to hear what students, faculty and staff have to say—eventually leading to a summit where the multitude of ideas and suggestions will be compiled to begin working on a plan of action. There is currently no concrete date as the listening tours and sessions with various spaces on campus will continue into the next semester, where there will be more opportunities for students, staff and faculty to share their ideas and participate in productive discussions.
“We want the summit to be a time that we have students, staff and faculty all in the same room to have a conversation about what we learned on the listening tour and how we now move forward and how we set some priorities based on everything that we have listed as a community,” Rosario-Hernandez voiced. “We have this idea, we know that we want to show the progress of our listening tour and we want it to be a place of gathering but how it looks will really depend on the folks who come help us and collaborate with us to shape the identity of the summit. We’re hoping it can be something annual that we can provide to the campus as a way of having an ongoing process to keep the conversation going.”
“Students should know that we’re here for you,” Williams noted. “Let’s be very frank—the whole pulse of this campus moves around the students. We come to New College to educate students that are going to go out in the world and lead. They’re going to care about issues, they’re going to be citizens of our communities.”
Beyond the work Rosario-Hernandez, Purdom and Williams are doing, there are more players behind the scenes at the OOIE. Cecilia Linton—Assistant Director of Access Leadership and Financial Wellness Programs—is widely known to spearhead the financial wellness and literacy programs on campus, but within the OOIE her position as Assistant Director of Access Leadership allows students to receive a mentorship and support financially through scholarships like the Charles & MargeryBarancik Foundation scholarship program.
“I love what I do,” Linton gushed. “Everyone’s journey is unique to them. I enjoy getting to know each student as an individual and count it a real honor to hear their successes and struggles. I’m grateful for the invitation to journey with each one as they navigate NCF and prepare their next steps. I look forward to helping more students navigate life and the financial journey.”
In an OOIE email newsletter sent late Sept. it was announced that Woodson and Program Coordinator Cathy Cuff will be leaving the office. Woodson’s retirement is said to be at the end of Fall, a farewell is to take place on Nov. 1 at 5:30 p.m. in the Cook Hall living room and is open to the community. Cuff will move onto being the Sponsored Projects and Academic Budget Specialist within the Office of Research Programs and Services (ORPS) at New College.
“There’s people before us who put a lot of labor into creating certain spaces on our campus and we should be honoring that,” Rosario-Hernandez said. “We should be honoring the labor of the people who came before us and who are still here doing so much work. Dr. Zabriskie has done an amazing job in supporting and helping out our community and she’s brilliant. These are not easy shoes to step into.”
“We are doing work that should have been done a long time ago in some ways but better late than never,” Williams acknowledged. “There’s a lot of firsts sort of wrapped in the foundation of our office that I really think really do need to be honored and celebrated because we are actually sitting in a very fortunate position to be able to do this work because of that.”