Chief Diversity Officer Mark Brimhall-Vargas, with the Diversity and Inclusion Working Group, aims to act on the problems raised by the President's Council on Diversity. Elyssa Harris / Tufts Daily Archive

Diversity and Inclusion Working Group works to meet goals of 2013 Diversity Report

The Diversity and Inclusion Working Group (DIWG), chaired by Chief Diversity Officer Mark Brimhall-Vargas, has been working this semester toward greater faculty and staff diversity, more public data related to diversity and new affinity groups for minority and women students, faculty and staff.

According to Brimhall-Vargas, the working group contains leaders and representatives from all of Tufts’ schools and campuses and is overseen by the Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Council (DILC), chaired by University President Anthony Monaco.

Brimhall-Vargas said that he has been working to help Tufts meet the diversity goals outlined in its T10 Strategic Plan since his April 6 arrival at Tufts. The plan, released in November 2013, outlined a 10-year undertaking for the university, which included acting on the recommendations that were to be made by the President’s Council on Diversity.

Brimhall-Vargas said he serves as a resource for members of the Tufts community dealing with issues related to diversity and inclusion.

“I’m usually the person of last resort if there isn’t a particular person responsible to address a problem on campus,” he said. “People have availed themselves to that. Students and staff come to me about those issues.”

Brimhall-Vargas said he has been engaging with staff and faculty of color to help them start affinity groups on campus, including working to start groups with several African-American women on staff and graduate student women of color.

One major effort undertaken by Brimhall-Vargas and the DIWG this semester is the diversification of Tufts’ faculty and staff. According to the 2013 report by the Council on Diversity, in 2012, less than 20 percent of all full-time faculty members identified as faculty of color, and approximately 38 percent of full-time faculty members were female.

Brimhall-Vargas said he hopes to educate members of the community about how to recruit and land female candidates and candidates of color for open staff and faculty positions.

“There are new regulations that ask us to be thoughtful around a person with disabilities and veterans,” he said.

In addition, Brimhall-Vargas is hoping to build a website dedicated to diversity efforts so that the DIWG can publish data about its progress.

“My job is to produce a diversity dashboard that provides publicly available info to the campus but also gives context and nuance to what people are seeing,” he said. “We’re hoping to get that done really soon.”

Increasing the diversity of Tufts faculty — specifically by increasing the number of Black-identifying part-time and full-time faculty to 13 percent — and making diversity data and demographics more transparent were among demands made of the administration by Tufts students organized under the name #TheThreePercent. Members of #TheThreePercent, led by Black students, announced these demands on Nov. 18, the same day they led approximately 200 students in a march to Porter Square to stand in solidarity with student protesters nationwide, calling for an end to discrimination and racism on college campuses.

Brimhall-Vargas and Monaco met with students at the Africana Center the day before the protests to discuss student concerns about campus conditions for Black students. Following the protests, on Nov. 19, the two administrators released a statement acknowledging the work to be done by Tufts.

“Despite positive steps, we know that Tufts still has much work to do,” Monaco and Brimhall-Vargas wrote. “We believe that the administration in partnership with faculty, staff, and students can enable meaningful change on our campus.”

University Chaplain Reverend Gregory McGonigle, who is also a member of the DIWG and works with Brimhall-Vargas, said that in light of #TheThreePercent demonstration, colleges and universities nationwide must examine issues related to race on their campuses and strive for positive social change.

“I thought President Monaco and Brimhall-Vargas’ statement as quoted in last week’s Daily summed it up very well, that despite past positive steps, we know that Tufts still has much work to do and that collaboration among students, faculty and staff can help to make that happen,” he said.

He added that the hiring of Brimhall-Vargas has served as an important addition to the Tufts community.

“I think it is very important that Tufts has a member of its leadership team whose primary focus is on broad issues of diversity and equity,” McGonigle told the Daily in an email. “Mark brings a great deal of experience and insight to this position and is already working hard with his leadership council, working group and other resources to begin making short-term and long-term changes that will impact our campus community on issues of diversity and equity in positive ways.”

According to DILC member and Senior Associate Director of the Office of Institutional Research & Evaluation Jessica Sharkness, the main roadblock Tufts faces in terms of diversity and inclusion is its financial resources. Sharkness also co-chairs the Assessment, Reporting & Dashboard working group, which reviews data that pertains to diversity issues.

Tufts competes for students with institutions in the highest echelons — including all of the Ivy League schools — but does not have the same financial aid budget to work with,” she said. “Fortunately, raising money for financial aid is a high priority of the administration, and [it is] well on [its] way to [its] fundraising goals in this area.”

According to Tufts’ most recent financial statement, $130 million in financial aid were awarded across all schools in the university in Fiscal Year 2015, $74 million of which were awarded to undergraduates. The statement also says that $25 million were raised for endowed scholarships over the same time period, totaling $64 million under the Financial Aid Initiative launched in 2012. The demands of #TheThreePercent included the establishment of “an endowed scholarship fund specifically for Black students from urban public schools.”

Sharkness added that while she believes Tufts is already a “fairly progressive, welcoming place for all students,” she believes the university will make further strides soon in terms of having data on diversity, inclusion, engagement and achievement.

Brimhall-Vargas said that change of that sort on campus does not always come quickly.

“I don’t believe in quick, easy fixes,” he said. “I was not given a magic wand when I started here and would not expect one in a year. But I think it’s possible to start raising issues of diversity, equity and inclusion more often on campus and more systematically.”

Brimhall-Vargas added that he hopes to start holding regular office hours for students who want to address any concerns, or who simply want to meet him.

“It would be great if more students got to know me and I got to know them as well,” he said.

Brimhall-Vargas acknowledged that Tufts is sometimes restricted by a lack of resources and structure surrounding some issues, but he feels the university is making diversity and inclusion a priority and strives to respond to all the concerns he receives.

“What inspires me and continues to give me hope is that no one has told me ‘No,’” he said. “The responses are usually ‘Yes,’ but it’s hard to get there.”

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