Harris to promote diversity goals

by Tracy Landers | 7/31/01 5:00am

When a young Ozzie Harris arrived at Dartmouth as an African-American freshman member of the Class of 1981, women comprised less than 30 percent of the student body and students of color made up far less.

Times have certainly changed since then. But with whites continuing to comprise the overwhelming majority of people on campus, the College is still struggling to improve diversity.

The recently released Committee on Institutional Diversity and Equity Report was the latest step in Dartmouth's long struggle to become a more inclusive environment. And Harris, the current Director of Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action, is the newest high-profile player in that long struggle.

At College President James Wright's direction, Harris now holds a senior administrative position designed to coordinate diversity efforts at Dartmouth.

Though some details of the new position, entitled Special Assistant to the President for Institutional Diversity and Equality, are still unclear, the job description involves the broad and still undefined task of "implementing diversity initiatives."

The role was recommended by the CIDE with the aim of making diversity a full-time job for at least one administrator in order to provide oversight and long-term direction to an issue the College has long promoted, but never fully realized.

Harris said his first goal in his new position is to set up the membership for a new diversity council of students, faculty and administrators, of which he will be the chair.

"I hope that [the new position] is about more than programming ... Our office is reorganizing, looking at how staff resources are utilized and attempting to think and rethink issues of opportunity, inclusion and pluralism. We want campus life to be positive and feel genuine and real."

Harris joined the Dartmouth administration in 1992 as Assistant Director of the Office of Financial Aid. He went on to serve as Associate Director of the EOAA Office in 1993 and in 1999 was named director.

Harris said that retention of minority faculty was an important issue that needs to be examined.

He also said that student-professor mentoring and first-year orientation were areas he was interested in improving through an emphasis on diversity.

"We need to look at what sort of personal relationships we allow people to make here ... we have to go beyond tolerance and more fully appreciate one another," Harris said.

According to Harris, the new position differs from his position as director of EOAA in that it reflects "the institution's choice to be coherent and focused on issues that impact diversity."

Harris also noted that the issues that he would be dealing with were broader than definitions of diversity that focus on sex, race and ethnicity.

"Diversity implies different ideas for different people including sexual orientation, geographic locations and certainly class," he said.

Harris' own experience of diversity on the Dartmouth campus began in 1977, when he came here as a first-year student.

"Since I arrived ... Dartmouth has become a very different place in terms of diversity, though with some of the same strengths," he noted.

"We've done a really good job at recruiting women as students, faculty and administrators," he added.

Drawing from his knowledge of the current level of diversity at other colleges and universities as well as his nine years as a College administrator, Harris said of diversity at Dartmouth, "We are much better than we give ourselves credit for."

"The reports from the past three decades articulate a desire for greater diversity on campus ... It's very challenging to make Dartmouth as diverse as people at Dartmouth think it should be, because our expectations are so high," Harris said as a compliment to the Dartmouth community.

"My desire is to see Dartmouth become as inclusive a place as possible," he concluded.