Chief Diversity Officer and Associate Provost Mark Brimhall-Vargas will be leaving his position at Tufts on Jan. 10 after a year and a half of serving in the role. He will assume the role of Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Brandeis University upon his departure.
In a Nov. 2 email from Provost David Harris sent to the university community, Harris praised Brimhall-Vargas for all the work he has done during his time at Tufts.
“He has done a fantastic job of launching initiatives that are helping us achieve goals identified in the report of the Council on Diversity, and the Tufts University Strategic Plan,” Harris wrote, adding that he will initiate the search process for a replacement in the near future.
Brimhall-Vargas explained that he was not in the job market, but accepted a competitive offer when Brandeis University’s search firm approached him. In his new position, Brimhall-Vargas will have a team working under him, helping him to make a stronger impact on student life, he said.
“I will have people that will report to me,” Brimhall-Vargas said. “I will have more direct control over systematic responses to student needs.”
Brimhall-Vargas is the first person to serve in the role of Chief Diversity Officer at Tufts.
“When I was hired, I was told that the institution really wanted to be transparent about its progress toward diversity, equity and inclusion goals,” Brimhall-Vargas said.
This objective spurred him to create the Diversity Dashboard, one of his first projects at Tufts, he said. Brimhall-Vargas explained that he wanted to calculate and present numerical data about the members of the Tufts community in a variety of categories to help illuminate diversity and the lack thereof in the university.
“We wanted to disaggregate by school, by race, by gender, precisely so that if someone comes to our website thinking that they want to come to Tufts in any of our schools, they would know what to expect in terms of the population that’s there,” Brimhall-Vargas said.
Brimhall-Vargas explained how other projects he worked on included a training program for faculty search and selection committee members, various programs with the Group of Six, the University Chaplaincy and the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life. More recently, he said he helped in organizing dialogues to help students process their thoughts and emotions throughout the election cycle.
Moving forward, Brimhall-Vargas also said he hopes that the Graduate Student Climate Survey that he has been working on for the past few months come to fruition, adding that he is uncertain if the survey will only be put out once the position is filled again.
“I certainly want to make sure that the instrument itself is ready and has gone through the vetting process,” Brimhall-Vargas said.
He added that he hopes the Trans Support Task Force he started along with LGBT Center Director Nino Testa (G ’13) will have adequate leadership in the future, as both founders are leaving Tufts in the coming months.
While Testa does not directly report to Brimhall-Vargas, he described the Chief Diversity Officer as a friend and an ally. Testa praised Brimhall-Vargas for his ability to forge connections between organizations.
“I think that Mark challenged a lot of us here to come out of our little silos and to work together across a lot of different offices, programs, departments [and] schools across the university to see what could be done if we thought a little bit more ambitiously and broadly about what diversity and inclusion mean at Tufts,” Testa said.
Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate Diversity and Community Affairs Officer Benya Kraus described Brimhall-Vargas as a unifying point for all the various diversity efforts that occur throughout Tufts. She praised his strategical thinking, humility and receptiveness to student initiatives.
“He provides a voice and an understanding that’s so critical to making us become a more inclusive space,” Kraus, a junior, said.
Kraus expressed concern about finding a suitable replacement for Brimhall-Vargas and hopes that the university takes steps to make sure that the best person possible is hired.
“It’s easy for a lot of these institutions to write off diversity just by hiring somebody to be the image and voice of diversity,” Kraus said.
Both Testa and Brimhall-Vargas added that their identifications as LGBT professionals had no connection to their decisions to leave the university. Both said that the recent departures of other LGBT-identifying staff members such as former Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Lee Coffin and former Director of the Women’s Center Steph Gauchel were purely coincidental.
“I think that what’s happening is that there are enough professional staff and faculty who also identify as LGBT that the regular comings and goings of movement from job to job is going to look like a lot of LGBT people coming and going, but that it doesn’t really mean anything with respect to that particular identity,” Brimhall-Vargas said.
Brimhall-Vargas said he hopes that he is remembered at Tufts as someone who was genuinely concerned for student welfare.
“The one thing that I hope people remember in terms of what I brought to Tufts was a sense of care and commitment to individual students in addition to the larger picture of where Tufts should go,” Brimhall-Vargas said.