Oregon State University institutes new positions designed to address diversity and social justice

Riley Youngman

Leadership changes pertaining to social justice officially took effect Monday at Oregon State University.

In an email to the OSU student body Jan 19., President Ed Ray announced the creation of the Chief Diversity Officer, the Special Assistant to the President for Community Diversity Relations, and the Executive Director of the new Office of Equal Opportunity and Access.  

Dr. Angela Batista will serve as the interim Chief Diversity Officer.  According to the email, Batista will oversee the new Office of Institutional Diversity and will direct institutional initiatives and communications regarding diversity, equity and inclusion at OSU.  

According to Batista, although Ray and the administration had been working on institutional changes, the Speak Out event addressing racial inequality last term, motivated Ray to begin focusing on what was needed to bring direct action to campus.

“The Speak Out had a lot of influence highlighting these issues and bringing people together around them, which I think influenced the ideas for the president,” Batista said.  “In my short time here, before the Speak Out and after, I have really been able to see strong commitment from President Ray, the Provost, Angelo Gomez, and others.”

Batista claims Ray’s newly established structure and vision are innovative.

“I think that Oregon State has always been proactive in terms of, there are already a lot of things we do that I think creates a space focused on social justice,” Batista said.  “But clearly there are challenges, like the students spoke about. There are people in our community that are experiencing those challenges.”

Batista has been in the role of Associate Vice Provost for Student Affairs and was the Dean of Student Life since she arrived at OSU last summer. Batista’s regular position will be covered by Kris Winter while Batista serves as the Chief Diversity Officer, until that position is permanently filled. After that, Batista will return to the Office of Student Life.

“The idea is for me to help the university set up this position and this department, then I will return to my normal position and remain a partner,” Batista said.  

Batista has only been working at OSU for six months, but has previously served as the Chief Diversity Officer at other universities.  She says her past experience will help her with her new role here at OSU.

Batista has been involved with developing upcoming programs and initiatives that Ray announced in the email including town hall meetings and diversity training for incoming students. Batista says her overall goal is to improve the university experience for all students, and ensure that student success and wellbeing are the priority in all decisions made by Ray and the administration moving forward.

“Regardless of how we got to this point, I think President Ray and our administrators have shown a lot of courage and innovation and a lot of commitment to ensure we do things differently to get to a place where people feel safe,” Batista said. “Not every school does that, so I really appreciate this.  I have been at places where that is not the conversation.”

Batista says students are excited to see what the future holds with these positions.  She is looking forward to developing this role into one that promotes inclusivity and fosters an environment that allows all students to be successful.  While the position is new, and Batista is not entirely sure what the role will look like, she is relying on her previous experience to guide her in the process.

“We have a clear charge and vision from the president, and we are now trying to figure out the structure we need to set up to do that,” Batista said.  “We’re all on a bus together, we know that we want to get somewhere, but we don’t know how many stops we are going to make.  We may need to stop for gas along the way, and we may not know where we’re going at all times, but we’ll get to our destination eventually.”

Batista plans on meeting with student groups and furthering engagement on campus while developing the Chief Diversity Officer’s role.

Angelo Gomez, the current executive director for Equity and Inclusion, will take on the role of Special Assistant to the President for Community Diversity Relations, and will work to serve and build diverse communities, locally and throughout Oregon, according to Ray.

“I see my new role principally as an ambassador to forge and nurture relationships with diverse communities across the state,” Gomez said.

Gomez will report to Ray, and will spend his time focusing on communities around the state of Oregon in an effort to increase inclusion and accessibility to OSU, and provide higher education for people that have not had the opportunity.

“We have known collectively for a long time that we need to do more of this work. It has been challenging to do it in as robust a fashion as needed without actually creating a position that has that purpose.”

According to Gomez, this position has been in the works for a while, and pursued the opportunity to develop a role that could focus more specifically on outreach.

“This position is very attractive.  It is all about building relationships, and it sounds, and is, very enjoyable. The day to day work is great, and the goals and objectives are laudable. This is a role that I foresee doing as long as it feels right,” Gomez said.

Future programming and outreach is still being planned for the new position, but efforts are underway in conjunction with help from others around the university.

“We know what the goals are. As we shape our positions we have to keep our eyes on the prize,” Gomez said. “The prize is student success. The prize is relationships.”

Gomez hopes to foster student success by traveling around the state and meeting with people in person.  Gomez’s focus is to communities outside of OSU, and he anticipates being away from the university for  extended periods of time.  

“There is a real human dimension to this,” Gomez said.

Gomez has been working at OSU since 1999, before which he practiced law with a background doing civil rights work. Most recently, Gomez has served as the executive director of the Office of Equity and Inclusion.

Gomez points to his life experience and growing up in a time when people of his background still faced explicit discrimination as motivation for him to improve those societal dynamics and focus on justice.

“There is nothing like life experience to serve as motivation for my career,” Gomez said.

The Office of Equity and Inclusion will split into two new offices, headed by Clay Simmons and Batista respectively, and Gomez’s new role will fill in the space that is left.

“The OEI will be gone and you will have the OEOA and the OID. The whole reorganization is trying to have more dedicated focus in these areas,” Gomez said.  “This is all about OSU and staying true to its land grant mission.  We need to continue democratizing education, and opening the door to higher education for all.  It is all positive, and something I believe we need to do.”

Clay Simmons, OSU’s current Chief Compliance Officer, will serve as the interim Executive Director of the newly created Office of Equal Opportunity and Access.  

Simmons new role will be to ensure the university is following state and federal regulations, including Title IV reporting, investigation into student reports, ADA compliance and affirmative action.  Sexual assault and harassment reporting falls under Title IV, and Batista pointed to new regulations as being a reason to focus on this area more specifically.

“It is not a new office so much as it is a modification of a current office.  Currently we have the Office of Equity and Inclusion and the OEOA will essentially be that same office but the more proactive parts, the programs and such, will be moving to Dr. Batista’s new Office of Institutional Diversity.”

According to Simmons, his current position as the Chief Compliance Officer will be similar to his new role and he will continue to have many of the same responsibilities he does now.  He will operate in the same facet he does now, just under a different title and office.

“Since we have had all the growth in the responsibilities in the sexual assault and sexual harassment issues, we wanted to really focus on that, as well as diversity and other compliance issues in one office and leave the visionary leadership to the Chief Diversity Officer.”

The search for a permanent Chief Compliance Officer will most likely start in the coming months, but Simmons does not know an exact time table for when the position will be filled.

According to Simmons, the OEOA is intended to make sure that OSU is able to appropriately respond to the needs of students who need the services the office provides.  These include students who feel they have been discriminated against, students who feel they do not have appropriate access to facilities or programs they expect to have under the ADA, students who have been sexually harassed or assaulted and violations regarding laws that provide for treatment based on gender.

“These students can come to our office and be confident they will be provided a quick, fair and equitable investigation of their claims.  We will do what we can to provide resources to them to help cope in the meantime and address the problem and ensure that it is corrected.”

On a simpler level, Simmons explains his office is more reactionary in nature, compared to the Batista’s new office which is more visionary and goal setting.

“We are the office that follows up on reports of things that have gone wrong and correct them.”

Simmons has been at  OSU for almost a year and half, but has worked as the Deputy Director of Compliance at the University of Texas Austin for six years, as well as working with compliance at Texas A and M.  

“I’ve been doing this for about 15 or 16 years, working with compliance issues in and around higher education,” Simmons said.