Updated: Sep 16, 2022
By Emily Rosenberg
President Nancy Niemi announced Wardell Powell’s appointment as Interim Chief Diversity Inclusion Officer (CDIO) in a campus-wide email Aug. 26.
Powell started on Sept. 1 and will remain in the position until the Vice President of the Division of Inclusive Excellence and Community Engagement (DICE) search committee has completed its work, according to the email.
Niemi wrote that the committee intends to bring finalists to campus during the fall semester and to have the position permanently filled by the beginning of 2023.
The position has been vacant since former VP of DICE Constanza Cabello resigned in August 2021. During academic year 2021-22, staff in the department reported directly to Lorretta Holloway, vice president of academic enhancement, formerly vice president of enrollment and student development (see pg. 6 “President Nancy Niemi restructures FSU administration”)
Powell is an assistant professor for the Education Department. His research focuses on making science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) curriculums more accessible to marginalized communities.
This past summer, he helped lead the STEM Racial Equity Institute, a five-week intensive program for Framingham State as well as Mass Bay Community College STEM faculty on crafting an anti-racist curriculum.
Powell said he accepted the position after Ellen Zimmerman, former academic vice president and provost, asked him during the summer. He said, considering the “important work that needed to be done” and how the University had already gone a year with the position vacant, he agreed.
Powell said a goal of his as interim CDIO is to be able to learn what students, faculty, and staff need from DICE and to provide the opportunity for the campus community to share their feedback through a campus climate survey.
The campus climate survey is university-wide and aimed at collecting data about campus safety as it pertains to inclusivity and cultural differences, Powell said.
The last campus climate survey was conducted in 2018, according to the minutes from a March 27, 2019 Board of Trustees Meeting.
“I think having that data for the next person coming in would be very helpful,” he said.
Eric Nguyen, director of the Center for Inclusive Excellence, said in an email he hopes having a CDIO will help to “build trust between various constituents and the institution in that DEI [diversity equity and Inclusion] and anti-racism will continue to be high priorities for the University.”
He added, “That trust will be essential as we appoint a new VP of DICE so that that person can begin to engage the community and learn about how they can best serve the community.”
He said as he knows one of Powell’s priorities is to collect data and get a better understanding of campus climate, having this information will help the next VP of DICE identify priorities.
Nguyen said it is a relief to have another point person for DEI-related matters.“It has been humbling to serve as a resource for so many different people at FSU, but it has also limited my ability to dive more deeply into various programs and projects.
“It is also important to me to have an additional thought partner in this work. DEI work can be very lonely, but I have been fortunate in that I can lean on numerous colleagues over the past year - both external to FSU and at FSU - including Dr. May Hara, Dr. Lorretta Holloway, and Dr. Cara Pina. But these incredible individuals also have their own responsibilities at FSU, so having another person now within our division is great,” he said.
Powell said a challenge going forward will be helping students, faculty, and staff feel more confident in the administration’s commitment to DEI work.
“Diversity, equity, and inclusion work is really important,” he said. “We went an entire year without someone in the position. There might be students, there might be faculty, there might be staff who might think the University isn’t really committed to this work.”
President Nancy Niemi said in an email she believes Powell will succeed in the position “because he is part of the FSU community and is committed to working with all of us to do the long, hard work of making structural changes that we need to create a more equitable FSU.”
SGA Diversity and Inclusion Officer Erin Gemme said they hope while Powell is transitioning into the interim position, he is open to ideas from students. “I find taking a lot of information from students would be very helpful because students are going to be the ones who know best in these situations.”
Matthew Maury, a senior psychology major said, “We should have done this [appointing an interim leader] to begin with. But I get it - it may take time or there may have been no one willing to step up. So I think now that we have at least for now, a designated point of contact, it’s going to make things go a lot more smoothly.”
Samantha Stafinski, a senior English major, said last year, there was no VP of DICE, and “students definitely suffered because they didn’t have someone to look to as guidance for diversity and inclusion.”
Nassiem Cleophas, a freshman business and IT major, said he hopes DICE leadership is transparent. “It’s 2022 - you need to have to be able to not see colors. You have to see a person for who they are - equal. … It doesn’t matter what color you are - you have to know at least a little bit about each culture.”
Gerald Fernandez, a sophomore accounting major said, “I didn’t even know we had one [a VP of DICE] and apparently, now we’re getting one.”
He added with the new interim leadership, he hopes the division is able to advertise their work and make it more available to students.
Susanna Krantz, a sophomore nutrition major said she hopes the interim leader is open to talking to students directly because inclusivity is an important issue on campus.
Sahir Russell, freshman biology major, said one thing he’d like to see DICE achieve is to help “diversify the staff.
“I see mostly white teachers in my classes,” he said. “So seeing more Black faces would be cool.”
Bella Nederios, a freshman Early Childhood Education major said she hopes with an interim CDIO, FSU is able to attain a welcoming climate.“Anyone of any race or gender - anything - that they’re accepted for who they are,” she said. “No one wants to feel ashamed of who they are.”