A few days before the start of the fall semester, Damira Grady officially joined the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh as associate vice chancellor for Academic Support of Inclusive Excellence and chief diversity officer.
Grady most recently served as the director of student accommodations and interpreting services at Milwaukee Area Technical College. She earned her doctorate in the advancement of learning and service in higher education from Cardinal Stritch University and both her master’s degree in educational psychology with an emphasis in community counseling and her bachelor’s degree in educational studies from UW-Milwaukee.
We caught up with Grady to learn more about how she sees her new role, what drew her to Oshkosh and the impact she hopes to have on campus—and how the greater UW Oshkosh community can help all students find success.
You’ve joined the University with the titles of associate vice chancellor of Academic Support for Inclusive Excellence and chief diversity officer. That’s about as lengthy as faculty titles come—can you give a quick breakdown of what your titles mean?
My title means I am the leader on campus who engages in diversity as a matter of priority by cultivating diversity as an institutional and educational resource. My role is to see diversity as a resource that can be leveraged to enhance all students’ learning and belonging and as an intersection that is fundamental to our institution’s mission of inclusive excellence.
What was attractive to you about this role?
This is simple: I was attracted to this role because of the fundamental connection between and intersectionality of diversity and academic excellence. I have spent the last couple of months immersing myself, albeit virtually, in our culture, but I make no assumptions. I want to make sure I understand our needs. I knew before I arrived on campus there were some really great things happening. The institution’s commitment to diversity is clear on our website, which was intriguing. Still, I was eager to explore the current state of diversity on all three campuses so I am clear about our direction together.
Additionally, I believe education is the catalyst for economic mobility and personal success—and there is an opportunity to enhance our region’s goals around diversity. My passion is to create a campus environment where students feel they belong. Bringing more diverse students to campus without building an institutional structure that allows them to stay and graduate is not enough. Creating an inclusive environment will ensure that students achieve academic success and are prepared for the transition to feel like they belong to the community in which they live and work.
How about the University—what appealed to you about Oshkosh?
I reflect, often, on what attracted me to Oshkosh. Chancellor Leavitt and Provost Koker and their commitment, focus and priority of diversity, equity and inclusion was the main appeal for me. A chief diversity officer’s work cannot be completed without resources and a seat at the table. Having the opportunity to be part of the Chancellor’s cabinet assured me this position would have visibility, access and the opportunity for real impact. I have been immersed in diversity initiatives throughout my career. Still, I have never had the opportunity to infuse diversity into discussions about budget allocations, new initiatives and the institution’s future priorities. I am excited to be a champion for diversity, but more than that, I am honored to be positioned to make diversity an action and not just a goal.
What are the long-term goals for this position? What do you see as plausible accomplishments for UWO in a few years’ time?
I am not here to serve as the token diversity person who does diversity work alone. Over the next few years, I will remove barriers, increase access and break down silos, while implementing policies and procedures that address our equity gaps and improve the campus climate.
What can both the student body and the faculty and staff do to help these goals get accomplished?
The collaboration will be key. A chief diversity officer’s work is beyond any individual, division or team’s capabilities. Being a relational leader will be essential for me in this role. I know there has been marginalization and exclusion of both internal and external stakeholders in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion, leading to mistrust among diverse students, faculty, staff and alumni. While I cannot erase 150 years of institutional exclusion and systemic racism in a short time frame, I will help build and mend trust across the student body, faculty and staff. Additionally, I would like to collaborate on creating a shared understanding of the many terms associated with diversity— terms that are often misused and misunderstood, such as “equity,” “inclusion,” “people of color,” “multiculturalism,” “inclusive excellence,” “minority,” “marginalized” and the like. So, belonging, opportunity, accessibility, personal growth and self-empowerment are at the core of diversity.
There’s obviously a lot on your plate. Is there one specific thing—a “pet project,” if you will—you’re working on that you’d like to highlight?
My pet project is to take time to learn, observe and to understand that I don’t know what I don’t know. I don’t want to maintain the status quo, but I want to highlight the work that is already being done by elevating and amplifying others’ voices on campus. I don’t want to reinvent the wheel. Instead I will focus on seeding new diversity initiatives and work to cultivate a common vision. My pet project is to be YOUR champion so WE can establish a framework that allows everyone to move toward a shared vision of diversity together and proactively.
What’s something the University community should know about you that doesn’t show up on a bio blurb, faculty profile or resume?
I am a proud mom of three children Lydia, 18, Nathaniel, 16, and Landon, 10.
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