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Aguilar's departure marks a transition for the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Jake Procino

News editor

Jade Aguilar, vice president of the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) and full time professor of sociology, is [leaving Willamette] for a position with [ECONorthwest], a consulting firm based in Portland. Her time with Willamette officially ends September 19.

In her place, the duties of the VP of the Office of EDI will be split between University Chaplain Karen Wood and Vice President of Student Affairs Lisa Landreman. According to an email from Provost Carol Long, Wood is leading the EDI work for the academic year while the Office of EDI and the committees within it such as Multicultural Affairs, Native American Programs and the Gender Resource and Advocacy Center will report to Landreman.

Aguilar also served as Willamette’s Title IX Coordinator. Long said that an interim coordinator will be named per federal Title IX regulations, which mandate that the university has a Title IX coordinator at all times. Though Aguilar is leaving and new Title IX guidelines went into place August 14, Aguilar said the Title IX team will continue to support students and keep the existing structures intact. The Title IX team includes Director of the Gender Resource & Advocacy Center and Confidential Advocate Andrea Doyle Hugmeyer, Student CARE and Conduct Case Manager Tori Ruiz, Director of Bishop Wellness Center Don Thomson, Director of Campus Safety Ross Stout and Director of Housing and Conferences Scott Etherton.

The conclusion of Aguilar’s tenure as the VP of the Office of EDI marks a transition period for the office. According to Aguilar, this transition is supported by the very top of the organizational chart: “President Thorsett this year has encouraged all of senior leadership this year to be thoughtful of embedding EDI across all of their functions too. All of the senior leadership team is thinking on how it lives in their division.” Aguilar said Willamette is being more explicit in its effort to reduce pressure on the Office of EDI.

“Having the strategic [EDI coordination], and the daily [EDI tasks] and the Title IX [work] all in one position is really pretty overwhelming,” said Long. “Now we can look at how to spread that work, how to integrate it into the larger community on campus [and] how to provide the support that the strategic work would need in that position.”

Aguilar, Long and Wood stressed that while the specific work of the Office of EDI will change over time, the office strives to achieve its main purpose of uncovering barriers to access and educating people how they are complicit in oppressive systems. “I think the overarching perception of creating this position was that the voice for [EDI] questions needed to be at the high level of leadership that needed to be university-wide and focus on the practices of the institution broadly speaking,” Long elaborated. “That’s something that we still firmly are tied to as a perspective and as a goal.”

Willamette is waiting to implement larger changes to the Office of EDI until it collects input from university stakeholders and conducts a full analysis of an external report on the Office of EDI by a team from Whitman College. Wood said: “What we want to do is see the ways that the entire university can be engaged in EDI work and be accountable for it. Part of my conversation with folks this year will be to judge the extent to [how much] that has happened over these three years and how we can set up and provide structures of accountability so that EDI work is work of the entire university.”

Willamette hired a team from Whitman to conduct an external review of the Office of EDI over the summer, led by Whitman’s Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion [Thomas Witherspoon] and Associate Dean for Faculty Development & Professor of Sociology [Helen Kim]. The review along with consultation from stakeholders—which includes the board of directors, faculty, students and committees within the Office of EDI—will guide the future of the Office of EDI. Though there are currently no plans to hire another VP of EDI in the near future, Long says: “I think the virtue here is in providing the institution [Wilmette] time to consider the options and do a good job of creating the structure that follows behind Jade [Aguilar]’s good work. The danger in doing a very quick ‘ok let’s just advertise the position or hire someone new to do this,’ the danger of that is you don’t do a good enough job of learning and of creating the position that we need.”

There is concern that continuing the EDI work will be too much to ask of Wood and Landreman, as they already have full-time jobs. Regarding taking on extra responsibilities at Willamette, Wood said: “It is not a new experience to take on additional roles. I think the last line of everybody’s job description is ‘and other duties as assigned,’ so it’s familiar.” Wood believes that leaders around campus will assist her by continuing to take on EDI work.

Aguilar believes that Landreman has the strong equity lens and commitment to EDI necessary to handle her new responsibilities well, “I feel really confident that Lisa Landreman is exactly the right VP we need for this role right now.” Aguilar added that Landreman was helping Wood with the workload by spreading EDI work across Student Affairs.

To Aguilar, this transition is a natural, yet difficult, conclusion to the three year commitment that Willamette promised to her in this role: “I could’ve left earlier and they could’ve fired me before three [years], but it worked out that it felt like the right amount of time.” Aguilar said in three years she was able to set up the structure and the role of the Office of EDI well enough for someone else to take the position.

Aguilar said that Willamette would have been happy to keep her around, but she felt like it was time to move on: “I’m just really excited about being a sociologist again. Doing applied work… and doing research that has real impacts for communities of color and low-income communities, so that’s really where I got really excited for the work and it felt like a logical next chapter of my career, too.”

“I feel extremely grateful for the opportunity I had to do this work for Willamette, to be the first VP for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion I feel like we have accomplished a lot,” said Aguilar. “The partnerships I’ve been able to have with faculty, with staff and with students, I mean those are just invaluable, you know, just moments for me to do something really important for an institution that I love, and I’m excited to pass the torch first to Karen and then to whoever follows, I think we did lay a good foundation and I just am really feeling truly blessed by this school and this opportunity and the work.”

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