In this exclusive interview, The Rocket sat down with SRU’s new Chief Diversity Officer Anthony Jones to learn what he has planned for the role.
“I truly believe that this is a beautiful institution,” Jones said. “I often say I think that Slippery Rock is a diamond in the rough because it’s kind of off the beaten path.”
One of Jones’ main priorities has been to form diversity initiatives that his office will use to enroll students and hire qualified faculty from underrepresented populations.
When he was hired in late December 2021, he was presented with a Diversity Strategic Plan draft. Jones is thankful to the approximately 30 people that worked on this plan as it gave him a starting point to learn about the SRU community, what it is doing well and what it has been missing.
However, Jones kept in mind that SRU’s President William Behre will retire effective June 30 2023, so he doesn’t want to establish a concrete plan before clearing it with a new president that may have a different perspective.
Therefore, Jones’ built his initiatives considering what can be improved before the new president arrives.
His first initiative is to create a pipeline with high schools in Ohio and other areas of Western Pennsylvania. He believes that if more students come see this institution, they will fall in love with it like he did.
Jones is also planning to bring in “busloads” of students to see campus, interview and meet faculty so they can build relationships and further encourage them to attend SRU.
Jones recognizes the hinderance that Ohio students face in paying out-of-state tuition and is working to aid those students.
For in-state students taking 15 credits, which is what most would consider a full schedule, tuition costs $5,253.35. It is the second lowest in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE). Students paying out-of-state tuition have their bill jump to $9,236.35 with the same schedule, but SRU does offer out-of-state reductions that could bring their bill down as much as $2,000.
Jones also discussed establishing relationships in Ohio with Youngstown, which is his hometown, and the Cleveland area. In Pennsylvania, he wants to re-establish relationships with Slippery Rock’s surrounding areas like New Castle and Sharon.
Jones often feels he is managing the chicken and the egg at the same time by bringing students to the university and preparing the university to receive them.
Another part of this first initiative is to establish a space for the Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB). They should be getting a space on the second floor of Old Main in the next few weeks, Jones said.
His second diversity initiative involves improving access for students from historically excluded populations and backgrounds. Jones will be working with campus programs like Jump Start, which helps new students transition from high school to college, to connect students with mentors, build relationships with faculty and help students learn their way around campus. These programs are also useful tools to keep these students at SRU.
Jones also wants to support SRU staff as much as he does the students, so he will be looking at Search Advocate Programs to aid in hiring. These programs bring in search advocates to ensure the hiring process is fair and unbiased, and they give the university more diverse candidate pools.
Jones’ third diversity initiative is to become more visible on campus by creating spaces where students and faculty can communicate more clearly and promote collaboration between offices.
He wants to make the DEIB webpage into a hub for all students and faculty to share information about diversity and inclusion.
Regarding the “belonging” part of the office, Jones wants to revisit our bias-reporting system to give everyone at SRU a voice and opportunity to share their experiences on campus.
Jones will also establish a Crisis Incident Response Team (CIRT) to be proactive about potential issues SRU may face regarding discrimination, hate speech or hate crimes. He said he has been at several institutions where being reactive to those situations has cost the university, so they will form procedures and policies for those situations.
“I think it’s really difficult to be in the middle of a crisis and try to solve it,” he said. “If you can, be proactive and think through those types of incidents with a clear mind and not have the pressure to get a response out right away.”
Aside from these initiatives, part of Jones’ responsibilities are to be an “influential leader” on campus. This role often takes him out of the office and behind the scenes.
In his first nine months here, Jones has noticed that offices across SRU may be conducting similar research, but they aren’t conducting that research collaboratively or sharing results. He calls it “functioning in silos.” As a long-term goal, he wants to help break down these barriers between offices and encourage them to work together in their research to save time and resources.
The DEIB currently consists of Jones and administrative assistant Amber Holmes, who has served in several administrative assistant positions across campus. Jones boasts that she has been proactive, thoughtful, has amazing foresight and has been essential in getting the new office off the ground.
Jones will also be hiring an assistant director. The first interviews for the position were held today.
Jones admires SRU’s commitment to diversity and inclusion through creating this position for him and allowing him to create others.