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Welcome Dr. Jennifer Wade, executive director and special assistant to the president for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging

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Dr. Jennifer Wade (they/them) has joined our community as Bay Path’s first executive director and special assistant to the president for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB). Dr. Wade brings years of DEIB experience in strategic planning, implementation, and teaching to the position.  Learn more about Dr. Jennifer Wade and their DEIB journey with the following interview…

The role of the DEIB officer is especially important for the culture at Bay Path.  As the first person in that position, what does this role mean to you?

I am eager to fulfill the hopes that the Bay Path community told me they have for this position when they hired me.

They asked me to apply highly specialized DEIB expertise to consistent collaboration with senior leaders and key teams. These teams will drive strategies into action plans that integrate DEIB principles across the university. The plans will also address with greater precision the systemic barriers to equity and inclusion. The result of these efforts aims to tilt the culture of Bay Path towards increased feeling of commitment towards DEIB and greater feelings of inclusion and belonging.

These hopes mean a great deal to me, and I look forward to collaborating with you to achieve them.

What is your vision?

Researchers outline five stages of maturity for DEIB. Bay Path has strong executive support for DEIB, brilliant DEIB champions, and impressive DEIB initiatives. These place Bay Path in the third stage of DEIB maturity, a stage that is already better than most universities in the U.S.

My vision is to collaborate to bring Bay Path into the fourth stage of DEIB maturity. The fourth stage connects DEIB efforts both horizontally and vertically. It connects them horizontally, so that initiatives in pockets across the university cooperate with each other efficiently. It also connects them vertically, so that efforts integrate from the grass roots up to the Executive Team. It also integrates connections with our external community partners into the horizontal and vertical connections.

Gathering deep data about the community’s experience of DEIB is essential to this progress. We cannot change what we don’t acknowledge. Deep quantitative and story-based data reveal our gaps. It allows us to learn and grow through interaction with difference, rather than reproducing what we already know. So, I will gather new kinds of information to fuel this progress.

My vision is to support the community to make data-driven and effective improvements to our approach to DEIB.

Why do you do this work?  What are the challenges?  And what are the rewards?

I cannot imagine doing other work. Before working in DEIB, I was a professor of applied ethics that focused on the history of civil rights, anti-oppression practices, and intersectional social justice. I instinctively want to be an upstander. I want to stand with people who experience treatment that diminishes their dignity; I want to be a witness to the unique value each holds for the community, the world, and the cosmos.

Social structures in the U.S. are built on exclusion, which often makes standing in solidarity with people when they are othered a challenging and dangerous risk. I have seen this throughout my career. I want to do the smartest thing to be present with people who fall through the cracks. I want to give them a platform for agency and help myself and my community to become better together. The reward is solidarity with others and seeing the small systemic changes that prevent suffering for so many.

What might be your top priorities as you settle into your position?

My top priority is to get to know your community. I want to know your needs, your hopes, what you think works and what you think does not work. At the same time, in cooperation with your existing DEIB champions, I want to amplify your already successful DEIB initiatives and chart a measurable plan to strengthen DEIB.

You will be Bay Path’s first executive director of DEIB.  In so many ways you will be making history.  What do you hope your legacy will be?

At heart I am a community organizer. I hope that I can improve systems that provide the community members with the least power more agency and contribution. And I hope that I can improve systems so that they offer those people more allyship rather than penalty when they encounter barriers on their journey. I look forward to the brighter communities for everyone that those changes bring.

Can you share a bit of your background? 

I have always been concerned about fairness. I grew up needing to financially support myself and siblings through much of high school, as well as through higher education. I was familiar with walking into a room and feeling that I could not say what was really happening for me, because somehow it would make me or my siblings unsafe. I was also a member of the LGBTQ community in a place that did not understand that identity.

As I moved through high school and college, I saw the people I loved who faced challenges like mine, or who had different marginalizations, peel away. They did not make it through high school, or university, or a job that provided a livable wage. And I experienced the same painful barriers that stopped them. I also saw their unique brilliance. By the time that I was in a doctoral program I did not see others with a background like mine.

This gives me a passion to bring marginalized voices to the table and to help them stay at the table. It has led me to a career as a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer after being a Professor of Applied Ethics. My best moments are when I can help people to remove what seems to them like insurmountable barriers.

For readers that may not be familiar with Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB), the phrase has organically developed in higher education, especially over the last 15 years. The phrase refers to the dedication of spaces and employees to change structures, policies and cultures that encourage people with dominant identities and discourage people with historically underrepresented identities. From a DEIB perspective, the problem is not bad people, but systems that duplicate bad results. As Mari Matsuda says, “It is both humane and inclusive to say, ‘We have done things that have hurt all of us, and we need to find a way out.’” When educational communities are more diverse, research tells us they are more entrepreneurial, creative, and enjoyable for everyone. DEIB works to bring that about.

I am excited to begin this work in your community and for the opportunity to collaborate as you become a new university comprised of Cambridge College and Bay Path University. I would like to welcome the people from Cambridge College in this endeavor. Adjustments bring discomfort and I want to be sensitive to the ways we can partner to alleviate those. I am also thrilled to learn from each other as we create the best ways to serve the new community.

Do you have a quote or a saying that helps guide you in your life’s journey?

 “Change happens at the speed of trust.”

Can you provide a fun fact about yourself?

I am a volunteer wilderness ranger, yogi, and meditator. I also love animals, especially the smaller they get (chihuahuas, chipmunks).