Last month, Michael Reed assumed the newly created position of senior vice president for inclusion and diversity. As part of the College’s senior administration, Reed aims to increase and promote diversity among students, faculty and staff while working to create a more inclusive campus community.
The position was created at the recommendation of an ad-hoc committee report last fall. The committee, comprised of students, faculty, staff and trustees, spent the 2016-2017 academic year examining issues of race, ethnicity and inclusion of first-generation students and students on financial aid at Bowdoin. The committee itself was the result of a report of two sociologists who came to study race and ethnicity at Bowdoin in the spring of 2016.
Reed said he was impressed by the ad-hoc committee’s extensive report, which convinced him that Bowdoin was serious about its intentions to increase diversity and inclusion. He was also pleased with the broad focus of the position at Bowdoin compared to several peer institutions. His role includes “promoting greater diversity among students, faculty and staff by race, ethnicity, religion, economic background, first-generation college student status, gender, sexuality, disability and differing political perspectives, among other measures,” the College wrote in a release.
“Chief diversity officer, I think by definition, should have an institutional portfolio and should serve all of the institution’s constituents. This does that,” Reed said.
Reed has an extensive background in higher education diversity work. From 2006 to 2014 he served as vice president of Williams College, where he established the Office of Strategic Planning and Institutional Diversity. He more recently served as Dickinson College’s chief diversity officer and Title IX coordinator. In a release announcing his hiring, the College cited his “impressive record of accomplishment in shaping institutional change.”
Though Bowdoin created a senior administrator tasked with thinking about diversity later than did many peer schools, Reed does not believe that the College falls behind other institutions in its effort to become more diverse and inclusive. On the student side, Reed believes Bowdoin has been successful in creating a diverse student body but needs to ensure inclusivity.
“A lot of institutions historically have made the mistake of assuming once they have achieved what I call representational diversity, the work is done,” he said. “In actuality, that’s when the work really begins. You know, how do you have them avail themselves and benefit from all the resources the institution has.”
Students aren’t the only group of concern—or “stakeholders” as Reed calls them—under the purview of his new office. He is interested in everyone who has something at stake with Bowdoin’s diversity: faculty, staff, administration, trustees and sometimes even the public.
“Part of what my job is is to help us see where we are on the continuum of diversity within all of those stakeholder groups and then to engage those stakeholder groups in either dialogue or strategic thinking and planning about how we can move forward,” he said.
Reed hopes to move the other stakeholder groups further along on what he has dubbed the “diversity continuum”—with a goal of increasing diversity in all parts of the College.
“We need more faculty of color, we need more women in the STEM fields, we certainly need greater representation on the staff side as well with respect to race and ethnicity,” said Reed.
Increasing faculty diversity is one of Reed’s primary goals at Bowdoin. Though he notes that it is a difficult job, Reed believes diverse faculty have a lot to offer the College. For one, they often serve as resources to students from underrepresented backgrounds. Currently, 15 percent of full-time faculty are members of minority groups, according to the College’s Common Data Set, compared to about 36 percent of students.
“For a lot of our diverse faculty, we call that invisible service. Many of them want to do it and in some respects as an institution we don’t do a good job weighing that in our decision to promote them or move them along toward tenure,” said Reed.
“Their presence also makes a difference sometimes in the expansion of the subject matter. You can look at lots of institutions and when they came up with programs like Hispanic studies, Africana studies, women and gender studies. You know when those studies came about? They came about when those people arrived. That’s when they also began to flourish. That’s also when some of the traditional curriculum began to get challenged,” he added.
Faculty diversity is only one part of Reed’s larger vision of raising underrepresented voices inside the classroom. He suggests that faculty members have to work to create open spaces and to encourage engagement.
“Part of what we can do is to deliberately create atmospheres within the classroom where all students feel comfortable engaging and sharing their ideas and have faculty trained to create those kinds of environments.”
Reed believes that students are a central part of this effort. He hopes that his work will help students who aren’t from diverse backgrounds to better understand diversity and inclusion.
“For me a large part of the diversity work is work that needs to be done by the population’s dominant culture. The diverse populations and cultures, by definition, have had to learn to navigate these spaces,” he said. “They’ve had to insert themselves in the existing culture and figure out how it works. What I advocate is not having diverse populations have to assimilate as much as how do we enrich the culture and expand the mainstream to be more inclusive?”
He views diversity as central to Bowdoin’s mission of producing effective leaders and responsible citizens.
“These are liberal arts ideas,” Reed said. “If we just hold ourselves true to what we say that we’re about, that’s natural support for diversity. When I first got here one of the things that struck me was the Offer of the College. It says ‘To be at home in all lands and all ages.’ That encompasses everything. If we produce students who can do that, who can be at home in all lands and all ages, we’ve nailed this thing.”