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UNC's search for chief diversity officer kicks off with presentation from first finalist

Cecil Howard is the first of four finalists to participate in public interviews for the search.

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Cecil Howard, the first of four finalists for the position of UNC's vice provost for equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer, held a forum on his goals to promote diversity at Carolina. Howard currently serves as associate vice president and chief diversity officer of the University of South Florida system. 

Cecil Howard, a finalist in the University’s search for the next vice provost for equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer, presented his goals for the position to the campus community in an open forum on Tuesday.  

Howard's presentation is the first of four open forums as UNC looks to fill the role. 

Candidates were given a topic to guide their presentations: 

The VP/CDO will be an 'ambassador' who facilitates challenging conversations between stakeholders on campus as well as with alumni and the community that surrounds our university. Please describe your experience in this area and how you would leverage that experience to help The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to navigate the complex dynamics of being a flagship university in the American South during an increasingly fractious and polarized time both on and off campus.”


  • Howard presented on an initiative entitled “Dismantling Bias and Racism." Howard began using this in 2011 while he was working as the director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and chief diversity officer for the city of Gainesville, Florida. 
    • The initiative is based on a six-week dialogue in a small group setting, specifically focused on breaking down prejudices around race and creating a safe space for open discussion.
    • “This country needs to talk about race, and we need to be open and candid about it,” Howard said.
    • Howard said he has seen significant success through this initiative, both in terms of participants wanting to continue these “courageous conversations” beyond the time frame of the program, and the formation of action plans to address specific issues.
    • He also uses a model of inclusive excellence in his current position as associate vice president and chief diversity officer of the University of South Florida system, which recognizes specific academic colleges and departments for their commitment to inclusivity.
  • Howard said he wants to place an emphasis on action and making concrete change.
    • “Let's not just say, 'I empathize, I sympathize, I stand with you, I denounce what has happened,'” he said. “Those are good, but those are only starting points. We must have some ability to go beyond that. We must talk about what we can do to assist, what resources are available, how we can get you to the table.”
  • During a Q&A session moderated by Suzanne Barbour, chairperson of the search committee, Howard said the first thing he would do in this position would be to hear directly from students, staff and University leaders about issues related to the University Office for Diversity and Inclusion at UNC.
    • He said he wants to take action to address the “low-hanging fruit” – or the immediate concerns of the campus community – right away.
    • “The last place you need to be is your office,” he said. “But, you need to be everywhere else around that campus, in everybody else's space and everybody else's office, not so much getting in their way, but allowing them an opportunity to get to know who you are and what you're there for.”

What’s next? 

  • The other three finalists will be conducting similar presentations in the coming weeks, with candidate Sibby Anderson-Thompkins’ open forum coming up on Friday. Anderson-Thompkins is currently UNC's special adviser to the provost and chancellor for equity and inclusion and the interim chief diversity officer. 
  • Members of the UNC community can fill out feedback forms about each candidate as they become available.

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