The final finalist for Michigan State University’s vice president and chief diversity officer, or CDO position — Jabbar Bennett — visited campus virtually Wednesday. His visit included a full day of meetings with MSU and an open forum followed by a Q&A portion held on Zoom.
Dean of the College of Arts and Letters Chris Long and Senior Vice President of Information Technology and Chief Information Officer Melissa Woo, co-chairs of the search committee, moderated the forum. They asked a series of composed questions followed by a Q&A.
Bennett currently works as the associate provost, inclusion and chief diversity officer at Northwestern University. Before that he was the associate dean for recruiting and professional development at Brown University’s graduate school.
Bennett spoke about the many goals he has for this role and how he would achieve them.
“The broad goals that I think would be areas that should receive keen focus are ... to support the retention and promote the success of members of underrepresented groups; to enhance the overall living, learning and working experience of members of the Spartan community; and to booster outreach engagement in economic development throughout the state of Michigan and beyond," he said.
He explained the potential outcome if he was able to achieve his goals for diversity and inclusion.
“If we did this we would be increasing satisfaction, we would be offering relevant education and training, we would be providing clarity on the path toward advancement for faculty staff and students, we would be nurturing inclusion but also improving outcomes overall," Bennett said.
Bennett believes that diversity, equity and inclusion are important to consider when we are working to recruit and retain members of the Spartan community.
“I think the foundation of this work is around recruiting, training and hiring this diverse cadre of individuals. We have to make sure we do what we need to do to support retention and success,” he said.
He also spoke about other ways in which communities are diverse beyond identities that are typically brought up when talking about diversity.
“Chief diversity officers are truly required if they want to be impactful and effectful to think about various social identity characteristics that Spartan community members possess,” he said. “It goes beyond race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability and religion, but all these other things ... that include social-economic status, first-gen states and so forth.”
Later in the forum, Bennett talked about how he would approach the role as CDO and his target audience.
“I would engage stakeholders of all types: students, faculty, staff, alumni, trustees and local community members. I would also enlist partners and allies in this work because that is keenly important,” he said. “With all of this information, with of this input, this would help to clearly articulate a diversity, equity and inclusion strategic framework.”
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