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Thursday December 8th

Patricia Harris named UNC's senior director of education, operations and initiatives

<p>Trish Harris is UNC's new senior director of education, operations and initiatives for the University Office for Diversity and Inclusion . Photo courtesy of Trish Harris.</p>
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Trish Harris is UNC's new senior director of education, operations and initiatives for the University Office for Diversity and Inclusion . Photo courtesy of Trish Harris.

Patricia “Trish” Harris, the incoming senior director of education, operations and initiatives for the University Office for Diversity and Inclusion, describes herself as a “professional troublemaker.”

“Not out here knocking things over,” Harris said. “Just speaking truth to power and having the courage to stand up for what I feel is right and against injustice.”

This common thread is visible throughout Harris’ extensive career in higher education.

She said she was always interested in working on a college campus, and a huge part of how she decided to focus her work on equity and addressing inequality was from attending Savannah State, the oldest public historically Black college or university in her home state of Georgia. 

“I just remember when I first walked onto that campus I felt like I belonged there, it felt like home,” Harris said. “As the first person in my family who went to college I had no clue what I was doing. When I stepped on campus I was embraced. I was introduced to my family. I wanted to be a part of that journey for other students.”

Since 2002, Harris has worked at multiple higher education institutions on the East Coast. In 2017, she began working at UNC as the director of recruitment at the School of Education. Since then, she’s won a variety of staff awards for her work.

“I would rather be uncomfortable than allow myself to be silent,” Harris said. “That has motivated me, as well as thinking about the people who came before me. Somebody had to chart the path, and I want to continue to chart the path and make the world, and UNC, Carolina, a better place for those who are gonna come after me.”

Alongside her work for the School of Education, Harris has also been involved with many campus activist movements. As the vice chairperson of the Carolina Black Caucus, Harris was involved in protests for the removal of Silent Sam as well as demonstrations in support of journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones. 

“I was actually at the forefront of a lot of that with my leadership position at the CBC, and it was exhausting,” Harris said. “It was an honor to be part of something greater than me, than myself and what we were doing. But also there was a sense of sadness that we had to do this.”

Charlissa Rice, secretary of CBC, praised Harris’ work, making note of her dedication despite the exhaustion that often accompanies advocacy.

“Ever since our first encounter during my first CBC meeting, I knew that she would be very influential in my life,” Rice said. “I admire her courageousness, hard work, thoughtfulness, ambition and drive, which has also helped me get through tough times. Seeing her standing up and not backing down to challenges encourages me and so many others. Not only is she one of my role models, she is also a friend — someone that I can call on, no matter what I need.”

Starting Jan. 24, Harris will take this skill and passion to the University Office for Diversity and Inclusion as senior director of education, operations and initiatives.

Harris said she is excited to enter the role, but she is maintaining realistic expectations about what she can do.

“Oftentimes D&I practitioners are held to these superhuman standards,'' Harris said. “I want my colleagues to know, and I want the student community to know, that I’m not infallible. Doing this work for me means I am constantly learning, and I would be doing the campus community a disservice if I wasn’t comfortable reading and researching and developing myself in this space.”

Leah Cox, the vice provost for equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer for the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, also said Harris' position will be difficult, but she’s confident that Harris will meet the high expectations.

“I selected her to serve in this capacity as senior director because I was able to see in my short time at UNC that she has done a lot of work to create an inclusive and equitable community,” Cox said in an email statement. “... This is a difficult position, and it holds a lot of responsibility, but I am certain that she will work alongside me to build a diverse, inclusive and equitable community with an eye on social justice."

Despite her cautious optimism, Harris said she’s prepared to take on her new responsibilities.

“I look forward to helping to shape what’s next,” Harris said. “And to lending my skills and knowledge to the D&I strategy to this important work of maintaining a climate of transparency, inclusive excellence, equity and diversity across all aspects of our campus. I hope to inspire and restore a sense of hope through moral leadership, because I am a moral leader as much as I am a troublemaker.”


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