University Announces Chief Diversity Officer

The university announced the Chief Diversity Officer, closing a search that lasted months (Courtesy of Flickr).

The university announced the Chief Diversity Officer, closing a search that lasted months (Courtesy of Flickr).

By Alex Dickson

The university announced the Chief Diversity Officer, closing a search that lasted months (Courtesy of Flickr).

Fordham hired Rafael Zapata to be the school’s first Special Advisor to the President for Diversity, Chief Diversity Officer (CDO), and Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs, on Wednesday, Oct. 11.
Before joining Fordham, Zapata had been the CDO at Providence College since 2012, and has previously worked for Swarthmore College and New York University.

The search began on May 2, Rev. Joseph M. McShane, president of the university, emailed the S.J., Fordham community announcing the appointment of a search committee, led by Anthony Carter, FCRH ’76, a former CDO at Johnson & Johnson, and said that it was a key recommendation made by the Diversity Task Force.

“We shall look to the chief diversity officer (CDO) to provide leadership and advocacy in strengthening the culture of inclusion and diversity at Fordham,” said McShane.

Carter sent out an email in August announcing the selection of three final candidates, narrowed down from an initial search of 150 candidates in partnership with Koya Leadership Partners, to be presented to McShane and provost. This was followed by another email from McShane on Aug. 27 in which he said a final decision would be made imminently.

Fordham is not the only institution to go in this direction. Other colleges such as New York University (NYU) the University of Maryland and Tufts University have recently hired CDOs this year.

NYU went through a similar process of appointing a search committee directly from a recommendation of its own Diversity Task Force, ultimately hiring Lisa Coleman.

Juan Carlos Matos, assistant vice president for student affairs for diversity and inclusion, said the changing political climate in the United States may be reason for institutions like universities hiring CDOs.

“We’re at a critical point in this country where people are acknowledging that things need to change,” said Matos. “That’s why there’s a growth of all of these positions happening at different universities.”

Matos was also part of the Carter’s search committee and is also a member of the Diversity Task Force responsible for the recommendation.

The creation of the Diversity Task Force in 2015 came after a string of bias crimes in university residence halls. In September 2015, a pair of bias incidents, involving a racial slur and a swastika, sparked a response from student-led groups that demanding action and dialogue. There were two more incidents later that year in November. The Diversity Task force, which consists of both faculty and students, aims to study incidents like these and race relations in general in order to make recommendations to the president.

Fordham’s issues with diversity are often linked to it’s lack of minorities within the student body. Anya Patterson, FCRH ’19, co-chair of the diversity Action Coalition, said Fordham does not live up to its claims of diversity.

“We say we’re diverse, but when it comes down to the numbers, Fordham doesn’t show that.” The incoming class of 2021 is 13 percent Hispanic/Latino, 3 percent African-American, and 57 percent white, while the current student body is 14.4 percent, 4. 4 percent and 68.5 percent respectively.

Patterson said the installation of a CDO position at the university should improve the situation regarding race on campus.

“When asked if she thinks that the new CDO will have an effect, Patterson said. “It will finally allow the university to listen more to minority voices. The new CDO will definitely be a face for the marginalized here on campus and for the ‘big conversations’ that we need and haven’t had.”

Matos said the country is struggling to come together and talk

“How do we have conversations about this in ways that aren’t shaming people? There are things in this country’s history that have happened but we, as a people, haven’t addressed them in a very intentional way together,” said Matos.

Matos sees the addition of a new CDO as an exciting development in Fordham’s continuing effort to tackle issues of diversity.

“I would hope that there are many offices that weave diversity and inclusion into their work, but that’s not the sole work that they do. As an administrator, to now have colleagues whose main task is all centered around diversity and inclusion, I think there’s a lot of positivity that can come from that work,” said Matos.

McShane sees the addition of a new Chief Diversity Officer as an “an important step in the evolution of Fordham’s culture,” according to his email.