SRU’s chief diversity officer Anthony Jones has hired an assistant director for the Office of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB).
Keshia Booker was hired internally from the Office of Inclusive Excellence. She was previously the assistant director of multicultural development.
“She’s the type of person that when you say ‘this is the goal,’ she’s rolling up her sleeves and checking boxes to attain that goal,” Jones said.
Jones describes her as a very hard worker with great ideas and a thirst to do more. He is confident they will work well together. The assistant director position is designed to be his right hand.
“I just think that she’s the person you would want next to you if you’re trying to figure something out,” he said.
The pros of hiring internally are that Booker already knows the systems on campus and who to talk to about specific issues. Since Jones is still new to SRU, he is happy to have someone who can give him internal direction about who to speak with to get things done.
However, hiring internally may not give the DEIB and university the same fresh ideas and perspectives that come from an external candidate that has had experience with other institutions.
The committee tasked with finding an assistant director consisted of Jones, administrative assistant Amber Holmes and SRU-APSCUF vice president and elementary education/early childhood chairperson Michelle Amodei.
The hiring process began in the summer and took longer than the committee had hoped. They had several strong candidates, but the candidate pool had not been as strong as they would have liked, Jones said.
The committee looked for qualified candidates with experience in the office’s mission, vision and values. In addition to diversity, equity and inclusion, they had to understand the addition of belonging- as well as what that term means for the office.
Jones was also looking for experience in programming and the assessment and recruitment of faculty and staff.
A weaker applicant pool than they had hoped for caused the committee to wait and let the pool grow before starting the review process. Jones speculated that qualified individuals may not have been applying due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected employment across the country, and because of better opportunities outside higher education.
Qualified individuals also may not have known about the “diamond in the rough” Slippery Rock University because of its location and size. Jones understands the rationale that if candidates can find work closer to them or in a larger city, they will probably explore those options before choosing SRU. Working here must make sense for the individual.
“I think when people choose it, they fall in love with it,” Jones said. “But again, that diamond in the rough, how would you know if you don’t have a reason to know?”
The committee started with about 12 candidates, and eight of them were solid. They got through the first round of candidates and were planning to bring them to campus when they started hitting bumps in the road.
Two candidates did not interview well and were clearly not right for the position, and two candidates dropped out.
Booker did amazing in her interview, hit all the points they were looking for and was more than qualified, according to Jones.
“We do have an opportunity to work with someone who has a wealth of knowledge on the institution, and also the social capital that comes with that,” Jones said.
Booker does not have an official start date, but Jones said she will be starting soon.
When she starts, they will be working right away on the search advocate process. These processes involve bringing in search advocates to ensure the university’s hiring process is fair and unbiased, and they give the university more diverse candidate pools.
They will also be working on what Jones calls the discovery program, which will help prospective students who normally may not consider SRU find out about the university and what it has to offer them.
Toward the end of the semester and the beginning of next semester, the DEIB will transition to the final draft of the DEIB Strategic Action Plan, which will help bring in students and faculty from underrepresented populations.
“[There are] a lot of things we’re up against,” Jones said. “I don’t like to put them in front of us as excuses, but there are definitely barriers we have to overcome.”
The DEIB will also be moving into a permanent space on the first floor of Old Main in the coming weeks.
“This was an idea, and I’m excited to have the opportunity and support to make it a reality,” he said.