Wednesday wrapped up the final open forum in the search for the University’s new vice provost for equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer.
Leah Cox, the current vice president for inclusion and institutional equity at Towson University, presented her goals and initiatives for UNC if chosen for this position.
“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.”
- Cox presented her platform based on integrating dialogues across campus to facilitate meaningful connections that lead to meaningful conversations.
- She focused on the intergroup dialogue model currently used at Towson University. This includes dialogues in the classroom, intergroup dialogue, sustained dialogue, dialogue skills and dialogue theory.
- Cox said this model would allow students, staff and faculty to have large group and one-on-one conversations about identity and raising social consciousness to inequities and what perpetuates these inequities.
- “Before we can learn about how we can address racism and anti-Blackness, discrimination and bias, we need to begin with a connection, seeing one another's humanity,” Cox said.
- Cox emphasized the difference between dialogue and discussion or debate. Dialogue means “understanding to be understood,” or ensuring that conversations are ongoing.
- Cox said she aims to address the historic indignities and discrimination as an institution in the South through this model.
- “We will always be in a state of unlearning,” Cox said. “The connection has to come before the content; the relationship that we have with one another must come before we can even begin a meaningful and compassionate conversation about the indignities that our Black and Indigenous students, faculty and staff and students of color, our minoritized students and colleagues have experienced.”
- During the Q&A session, moderated by search committee Chairperson Suzanne Barbour, Cox addressed topics including the impact of the pandemic on diversity and inclusion; the implementation process of intergroup dialogue; and staff and faculty participation.
- Cox said the pandemic has highlighted inequities many students face related to access to technology, food and other University-provided services. Cox said UNC needs to focus on making accommodations for students with disabilities and socioeconomic situations that impede learning.
- Cox talked about incentivizing intergroup dialogue through training for staff, faculty and other individuals who assist intergroup dialogue in the classroom. Cox suggested a monetary incentive for facilitating group discussions.
- She said addressing inequities in staff and faculty hiring at the University is also a priority. This would be done by diversifying search committees and conducting exit interviews when current staff and faculty leave the University.
- Cox said she has worked to address numerous diversity and inclusion issues through initiatives in her current position at Towson.
- She has addressed LGBTQ+ discrimination with gender inclusive restrooms, language adjustments to include pronouns and gender-inclusive residence halls.
- She addressed implicit bias at Towson with training for leaders and encouraging dialogue for all community members about implicit bias. She said she has also worked to make large changes to recruitment, retention and onboarding of new faculty and staff.