Annie Dietz, Campus Carrier Staff Writer
Throughout the last half of a year, Berry’s diversity program promoting the enhancement of multicultural awareness has gone through significant changes. Previously named the Multicultural and International Student Program (MISP), Berry’s diversity office has been redesigned, now titled the Student Diversity Initiative and includes a new administrative director. The new program will work in closer conjunction with the Berry Admissions Office, which will ensure that students have access to this office before they even come to Berry and throughout their time as alumni.
The new director of the Student Diversity Initiative is Chon’tel Washington, who will begin her position this Thursday.
“Not having a director in a position that is this critical is nerve racking, so I’m just excited to get her here, and I’m excited for her to learn Berry, to get her settled and to start some strategic planning,” Taylor said.
The search for a director of the Student Diversity Initiative began this summer, after Taylor and Chief of Staff Debbie Heida spent the spring and early summer designing what the program would look like. Spelman Johnson, a professional consulting firm that helps colleges and universities hire key staff members, helped narrow a pool of qualified candidates from which Berry could choose. At the end of August, candidates visited campus for interviews.
Lindsey Taylor, dean of students, explained that the catalyst for the change occurred around two years ago, when a consultant came on campus and noted that the MISP lacked key features necessary for the development of a high caliber diversity initiative. The consultant pointed out that students could go their entire time at Berry without being connected to the program, which needed to be changed.
Furthermore, while the MISP was representative of various cultures and ethnicities, it was nominally lacking in terms of LGBTQIA+ inclusion. With the departure of previous office director Tasha Toy at the end of last December, Taylor was able to reorganize the office in a way she hopes will better suit campus.
“We’ve spent a good part of last semester thinking on this, and the summer,” Taylor said. “I think we’ve landed in a good place, hopefully, to serve our students better.”
The newly reorganized office will work closely with the Berry Admissions Office. Washington will create connections with prospective students through campus visits and more general campus admissions events.
Also, she will work to ensure that admissions counselors and admissions events are more inclusive. Washington will similarly work with students once they arrive at Berry, as well as support on-campus diversity organizations.
Looking towards the future, Taylor has high hopes for the Student Diversity Initiative. She believes that the close relationship between the program and the Admissions Office will create a more diverse population on Berry’s campus. She also believes that the program will allow for a more comprehensive mentorship ability between students and faculty, as well as give more support to the student body. In focusing on this on-campus support, Taylor thinks that the program will allow for more education on inclusivity and cultural sensitivity.
“When you recruit higher numbers in terms of diversity, you have to have support as well,” Taylor said. “What I mean by that is making sure that we’re doing education of inclusivity, how do you speak, there really is an education factor when you’re a predominately white institution, cultural sensitivity is important.”