By Sophia Harris
President Nancy Niemi announced Jeffery Coleman has been selected as vice president of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement (DICE) in an Oct. 25 community-wide email.
Coleman will assume his position on Jan. 3, 2023, according to the email.
Interim Chief Diversity Officer Wardell Powell will continue in his role until then.
In the email, Niemi said, “Dr. Coleman brings deep experience to this position and will serve as an important advisor to me, the Board of Trustees, and the entire FSU community on issues and policies involving anti-racism, diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
Coleman earned his bachelor’s degree in public policy from Trinity College, his master’s in counseling with a concentration in student development in higher education, and his doctorate in educational studies with a concentration in cultural studies from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
According to the email, Coleman has more than 20 years of experience in “advancing educational and institutional excellence.”
His experience includes serving as chief diversity officer at Kennesaw State University in Georgia.
In this position, Coleman had oversight of the institution's Affirmative Action Plan. He also worked on developing frameworks in order to enhance inclusive excellence both within and across university departments.
He also provided “consultation, guidance, and support, as well as coordinating university initiatives, and developing grant proposals and applications,” according to the email.
Before accepting the position at Framingham State, Coleman worked at Intercultural Development Inventory, LLC as a consultant and qualified administrator.
In the email, Niemi said his “expertise and experience in providing workshops and training on topics such as implicit bias, anti-racism, and cultural competency will be particularly important as we move forward in our work as levers of greater social equity.”
Coleman was chosen over three candidates by a search committee led by Catherine Dignam, a chemistry and food science professor as well as program director for FSU’s STEM Racial Equity Project.
Coleman said, “I see a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion sort of interwoven into the fabric of the institution.”
He said a fundamental aspect of his role as vice president of DICE will be “creating an environment where all members of the campus community are able to learn and work and be successful - but also creating that culture of care that's really built on the pillars of academic excellence, sense of belonging, identity development, and cultural competency. It is really key to me.”
Coleman said one of his main areas of responsibility will be monitoring FSU’s policies, practices, and procedures to see if “they are creating barriers for any member of the campus community and then looking at how we can remove those barriers while also moving toward an alignment with strategic goals and the mission of the institution.”
He said his experience working in leadership positions in college such as participation in a work-study for the dean of students’ office, vice president of SGA, and peer mentor for the Office of Multicultural Affairs allowed him “to see the importance in and how meaningful it is to create support for students from diverse populations.
“I approach this work from my intersectionality lens of being an African American male and first-generation college student,” he said.
Coleman said he plans to use this knowledge in his role at Framingham State.
He said one of the first steps in his action plan when coming to Framingham State in January is to “take the temperature of the climate on campus.
“One of the things that I'll be doing when I first come on campus is really trying to get a sense of what the vibe is on campus,” he said.
Coleman said after assessing the “feel” on campus, he will be holding listening sessions with students, faculty, and staff.
He said he will be looking at “as many possible groups'' at Framingham State that make up the FSU experience as well as groups that are invested in creating a cultural experience on campus.
“I want to hear from them,” he said.
Coleman said after he hears from the participating groups through meeting and talking with them as well as holding listening sessions, he will “use that information to look at how we can develop some initiatives to support our University priorities and also move toward our University’s mission.”
He said he wants students to know that his work is “student-centered.”
Coleman said one of his goals is to strengthen the community on campus.
“There's focus on really creating a sense of belonging, creating a space in a campus community that's supportive and affirming and welcoming - all of those descriptors - really talk about how you can create an institution - a campus environment - that will be attractive to diverse students, diverse faculty, and staff,” he said.
He added there is a lot of research on how creating a sense of belonging is a “very strong indicator” of retention at universities.
Coleman said, “I'm just really excited about coming to Framingham State. I'm actually also excited to be returning back to the New England area because I'm originally from Connecticut and so I miss being able to get fresh seafood.”
He added, “I really feel blessed to have this opportunity.”
Niemi said she can tell Coleman understands equity work is incorporated into every community on campus.
“This isn't a position where you just work with a set of students or just work with faculty. It's his job to work with an entire culture to help us think about the ways in which diversity, inclusion, and community experience also work for the better of our organization,” she said.
Niemi said there are four main pillars of Coleman’s strategic priorities in his role at Framingham State which were assigned by herself and FSU’s executive staff.
She said these goals may “change and grow.”
Coleman’s first pillar is further developing and increasing awareness, engagement, and education in diversity, equity, and inclusion training for students, faculty, and staff.
“He wants to develop and increase awareness of all the ways in which DICE works across the University,” she said.
Niemi said some of the aspects under the “umbrella” of DICE that Coleman wants to increase awareness in are the Center for Inclusive Excellence (CIE); the MetroWest College Planning Collaborative; working with colleagues to advance DEI strategies across the university; updating the website; strengthening ties and growing the Alumni of Color Network; establishing diverse affinity groups; and publishing an annual institutional equity report.
She said all of that falls under “increasing awareness and support” of DICE.
Niemi said the second and third pillars of the strategic plan are advancing anti-racism and DEI practices as well as educating and recruiting, retaining, and supporting diverse students, faculty, and staff.
She said the fourth pillar is envisioning and advocating for DEI goals to support institutional strategic goals.
Based on Framingham State’s DEI policy as an institution, Niemi asked, “How does DEI fit into those strategic goals as well? That's a very important one.”
Referring to the Board of Trustees' ongoing anti-racism training, Niemi said Coleman will address that through one of the pillars in his strategic plan - advancing anti-racism and DEI practices.
“He's not only aware of them [the racist comments made at Board of Trustees subcommittee meetings], but he is not afraid to talk about them.”
In regard to racist comments made by a former member of the Board of Trustees during a subcommittee meeting Sept. 14, Coleman said in an open forum for faculty and librarians on Oct. 7 that it is crucial to develop an “institutional response” when events like this happen.
He added, “It's also important to note that when we're developing the response, we should not put the responsibility or onus on the victimized community to come up with that response.”
Niemi said, “Having permanent people in permanent positions allows the institution to really establish itself and go forward, so I'm excited to have another voice at the table who can help us - meaning the entire University - to think about DEI work.”
Dignam said she would “love” to see Coleman “unite the campus in our work to become a place where every member of our community will feel a sense of belonging, and have the opportunity to thrive.”
She said what set Coleman apart from the other candidates in the search was the combination of senior leadership experience, demonstrated success, and a positive demeanor that is “required to further inclusive excellence on our campus.”
Dignam said she feels a “sense of relief” now that the search for a vice president of DICE is over.
“I am also filled with hope for the future - that we may continue to bring people into this work so that the University may advance its goals for inclusion, anti-racism, and success for all members of the campus community,” she said.
Cara Pina, a search committee member and biology professor, said what set Coleman apart from the other candidates was “his knowledge of and experience with best practices within the field, his student-centered program ideas, and the overlap between his values and those of FSU.”
She said, “His experience supporting the development of cross-cultural competency, creating resources that support 2SLGBTQIA, disabled, and veteran community members, and creating campus-wide programming will certainly be beneficial to FSU.”
Pina said long-term, she hopes Coleman will “include clear DICE-related goals for the institution and a robust communication structure that will keep everyone informed.”
She said she appreciates the work that has been done to ensure that Framingham State “doesn’t lose sight of our commitment to anti-racism.
“Eric Nguyen, our Center for Inclusive Excellence director, has provided incredible support to the campus, especially to students, as the representative of the DICE division during the past year. In addition, President Niemi’s appointment of Dr. Wardell Powell as interim chief diversity officer shows her support for the division and its goals. I look forward to Dr. Coleman stepping into the position and continuing to outline DICE goals and move FSU toward them,” she added.
SGA President Dara Barros said she hopes Coleman will attract more BIPOC students, faculty, and staff as well as work with the administration to retain them.
Barros said she hopes Coleman will hold “everyone accountable for the work on being an anti-racist institution.”
She said she hopes Coleman can “alleviate some of the responsibilities that have been pushed onto BIPOC faculty and staff.”
Additionally, she said she doesn't want to see any “performative action.”
Barros said she wants to help Coleman connect with all students at FSU, especially students of color.
Erin Gemme, SGA’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, said they are looking forward to meeting with Coleman to discuss how they can help.
They said they want students to know that Coleman is there to support the campus community.
“I want the students’ voices to be heard and listened to,” they said.
Gemme said they are “really relieved” to have a permanent vice president of DICE, “especially after all the work that has been put into [the search].”
Alexus Baah, a sophomore biology major, said she is looking forward to having a fresh perspective in this position.
“I feel like a lot of what's happening now is based on old feedback,” she said.
Baah said she is anticipating Coleman listening to students at Framingham State and figuring out what they need from the vice president of DICE.
Brandon Enway, a senior business and IT major, said he hopes Coleman will be able to connect with the student body.
He said Coleman should be able to create a link between events that happen on campus that could threaten DEI work and students in order to prevent confusion and miscommunications.
Enway said Coleman “would definitely give a better picture to the student body of what's going on on campus, what problems need to be addressed.”
Lauren Baker, a first-year elementary education major, said it is important for Coleman to reassess the DICE policies and practices at Framingham State.
“I don't know exactly when they were made, but I think it would be good to go back and look at them and say, ‘OK, now it's 2022. Are these up to date or do they need to be refreshed?’” Baker asked.