New interim chief diversity officer outlines upcoming diversity initiatives

Recent hate-infused crimes, such as the death of Second Lt. Richard Collins III, have prompted students to ask for changes in the administration. The bus stop near the scene of Collins’ death has been temporarily relocated out of respect.

By Danielle Kiefer

The University of Maryland named Roger L. Worthington as the new interim associate provost and chief diversity officer Sept. 7.

Worthington is a professor and former chair of the department of counseling, higher education and special education. Prior to coming to this university, he previously served as the chief diversity officer at the University of Missouri.

“I have dedicated my life’s work to advancing difficult dialogues and creating a culture of inclusion in higher education,” he said in a press release.

Worthington comes into the position at a time when the campus and the nation have been rocked by recent hate-infused crimes, such as the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. in August. Shortly before Worthington became chief diversity officer, Lt. Richard Collins III was murdered on campus.

After several reported incidents of hate bias during the past academic year, including white nationalist posters being hung in academic buildings, students have asked for change in the administration regarding racism and discrimination.

In a message to the university, Worthington outlined his vision for increasing respect and inclusivity, such as implementing a joint task force on inclusion and respect, creating a new center for diversity and inclusion in higher education, and conducting climate surveys to better understand experiences of students, faculty and administrators.

Senior kinesiology major Yafet G. Armanuel said he hopes the school will work on, “implementing a hate-free policy, where major consequences occur for hate offenses, not just slaps on the wrist.”

Over the summer, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion created a working group that reviewed campus procedures regarding hate and bias incidents, according to the message Worthington sent to the university. The group is planning to develop a rapid response team for victims of hate crimes on campus.

Other upcoming diversity-related initiatives include a new student leadership council for diversity, equity and inclusion, and a campus walking tour focused on the contributions of African Americans. Dr. Kim Nickerson, Associate Dean for Diversity in the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, is working with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to develop the tour.

After students asked him to give a black history presentation several years ago, Nickerson started thinking about everything that African American students might not know about the University of Maryland. When Worthington accepted the position, they worked together to elaborate on the presentation and turn it into a physical walking tour, with placards of information at important places at the university. Nickerson also hopes to eventually create an app, so that anyone visiting the university can take a self-guided tour.

For Nickerson, the tour’s purpose is to teach students about the history of the school and its students, and to ensure that every student feels like he or she belongs and can succeed at the university.

“In order for people to really, truly understand and appreciate [University of] Maryland, I want everyone to also understand and appreciate its history,” Nickerson said.

Nickerson looks forward to Worthington thinking about the big picture and developing a specific plan to improve the campus.

“In this country, there are a lot of pressing issues that are negatively affecting the learning, working and living climate of the university that he can also help us think through,” Nickerson said.

Students like Armanuel have hopes that Worthington will be someone whom minority students can trust, and who will effectively deal with issues of racism and discrimination on campus.

“We need to find a way to curb racism while not preventing the right to freedom of speech,” Armanuel said.

For students who want to get involved in improving diversity and inclusion on campus, all they have to do is reach out and ask how to help, Nickerson said.

“One of the fundamental challenges for people really understanding diversity and inclusion is that no one person, no one office, does diversity and inclusion,” Nickerson said. “When people are empowered and inspired to do all the little things that [Worthington] put in his message, that’s when diversity and inclusion really starts working.”

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