Benje Douglas, director of Title IX and compliance, took on an expanded role on July 1 as the associate vice president for inclusion and diversity as well as the director of Title IX. Michael Reed, senior vice president for inclusion and diversity, and Janet Lohmann, dean of student affairs, announced Douglas’ new role in an email to the College community on June 26.
“As the associate VP, [Douglas] will continue with oversight of the Title IX office and operations,” Reed and Lohmann wrote in the email. “He will also facilitate institutional efforts connecting student affairs to other key offices across the College, including work alongside academic affairs.”
In a Microsoft Teams interview with the Orient, Douglas emphasized that his work with the Title IX office will continue. He sees his new role as an expansion of his previous Title IX work.
“Title IX, in its essence, is an anti-discrimination law,” Douglas said. “It’s the idea that everybody, based on sex in the federal definition, but, at Bowdoin, sex, gender, race, class—we want everybody to have an equal opportunity to have an incredible educational experience and good educational outcomes. And this [new role] is taking that work on.”
Reed added, in a Microsoft Teams interview with Orient, the Office of Inclusion and Diversity works to keep track of departmental initiatives around diversity and inclusion, makes connections between separate initiatives to create a larger institutional impact and creates an overall coordinated approach to diversity and inclusion work on campus.
“[Douglas’] new role is to help primarily—I won’t say exclusively—but primarily as it pertains to student affairs,” Reed said.
Reed explained that this would involve working with Kate Stern, associate dean of students for inclusion and diversity and director of the sexuality, women and gender center; Lesley Levy, director of student accessibility; Eduardo Pazos, director of religious and spiritual life and Benjamin Harris, director of the student center for multicultural life.
“It’s [supporting] all the work that’s being done there, but also making sure that we are linking and coordinating that with the work that the academic deans are doing so we’re working in concert and in support of each other,” Reed said.
Reed, who oversees inclusion and diversity work related to students, faculty, staff and alumni, drew a parallel between Douglas’ new role to promote inclusion within student affairs and Professor of Chemistry and Environmental Studies Dharni Vasudevan’s upcoming appointment as academic affairs associate dean for inclusion and diversity. In a Zoom interview with the Orient, Lohmann discussed this connection as well.
“This idea is, how do we … bring some of the pieces of the College together to create some more synergy and learning around these issues,” Lohmann said. “[Douglas] will be working across the Division of Student Affairs in all sorts of ways, but he’ll also be partnering around other initiatives across the College and the primary example is how the work of faculty and student affairs can come together.”
Lohmann said that Douglas would also be partnering with athletics, Career Exploration and Development, Health Services and Counseling Services.
Many other institutions of higher education are starting to increase inter-campus connections to particular inclusion initiatives such as Title IX, Title VII (prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin), ADA compliance (referring to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination in public life) and more broadly defined work around diversity and equity.
As the Title IX director, Douglas also had experience working with other staff members on bias investigations at Bowdoin.
“I have been on the bias committee from the time I got here, which was two years ago,” Reed said in a Microsoft Teams interview with the Orient, “And I think that’s where [Douglas] and I first had an opportunity to work together and get to know each other better.”
Reed said that he and Douglas talked about expanding Douglas’ role on campus shortly after they started working on the bias committee together; however, recent police killings and associated protests this summer played a role in the timing of the announcement as well.
“If I were to say … we weren’t pushed by the George Floyd incident, I will be less than honest,” Reed said.
Reed also said that, through his prior experiences as a chief diversity officer at Williams College and Dickinson College, he has learned not to “come in making proclamations” but rather to take time to understand the institutional culture and pre-existing inclusion initiatives present on campus.
“[President Rose] and I have been clear on this from the beginning,” Reed said. “It was, ‘we want you to build an office, but we want it to be the right kind of office, and we don’t want to rush it … As much as we can, we want to get it right.’ It doesn’t mean that we get stuck in paralysis, but it does mean that we don’t jump prematurely to build something that we’ll just have to deconstruct later on.”
In the fall, Douglas and Reed will work together to construct what Reed referred to as a “framing statement” which will discuss Bowdoin’s institutional commitment to dismantling racism and engage people in allyship. Reed said that this plan would allow the Office of Inclusion and Diversity to incorporate the individual plans of all departments on campus into an institution-wide plan.
Lohmann also commented on Douglas’ role in Bowdoin’s institutional planning.
“To have [Douglas] as a part of those conversations and a part of those initiatives, on behalf of student affairs, but also in this collective effort, just feels like it is the right thing to do to find ourselves in a better place,” Lohman said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “There is work to be done, and … the more we can find commitment and enhancement and possibility in the people that we have and how we do the work, the better served we’re going to be.”