Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion left without a permanent director

Dr. Cheryl Johnson resigns after serving as ODEI’s Executive Director for two years

Executive Director for HSU’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ODEI), Dr. Cheryl L. Johnson has resigned after two years, to become the Dean of Student Equity and Support Programs at Skyline College in San Bruno.

For Johnson, she said she just couldn’t be at an institution that no longer shared the same values as hers.

“My heart and who I am, and what I inherited from my father, who has passed, is all about racial equality, equity and being an activist for people,” Johnson said. “And for me, I have to be at an institution that has those same values.”

Dr. Johnson told El Leñador on Oct. 10 that racialized experiences are too common for students, faculty and staff at HSU.

“I just got called n****r yesterday at Safeway, somebody yelled it out the window — this is not an imagination,” Johnson said.  “So to negate race and racialized experiences, I can’t get with that.”

Dr. Cheryl L. Johnson

Johnson’s History at HSU

Johnson was hired back on April 21, 2017, to initiate a strategic and systematic approach to dismantle inequities at HSU.

“I was so excited to come to HSU, and I will say implement and envision what mostly equity, but of course diversity and inclusion, looks like,” Johnson said. “So this whole diversity of thought means nothing. You can have diversity and all these inequities.”

Johnson was announced as ODEI’s Executive Director just days after the murder of HSU student David Josiah Lawson, which she said that she wanted to come to HSU all the more after learning about what had happened.

“It seemed like HSU was ready to look at their equity issues,” she said. “That’s what brought me here in 2017.”

In a letter sent out on August 18, 2017, former HSU President Lisa A. Rossbacher, wrote to the University community about changes HSU would be implementing to create a more welcoming and supportive environment.

The letter in part read: “The murder of David Josiah Lawson last April has been a catalyst for driving needed change in our community. Evidence of the commitment to action includes open letters that were signed by hundreds of faculty and staff in May and June.”

In that same letter, Rossbacher announced that Johnson, in her role as Executive Director of ODEI, would also become a member of the President’s Cabinet and the University Senate.

In a series of meetings that took place that summer, according to the letter, Equity Arcata emanated out of one of those gatherings, in which Johnson is often credited for.

“Dr. Johnson played a critical role in the development of Equity Arcata and introduced the Collaborative Impact approach to resolving equity issues in our community,” Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, Dr. Alex Enyedi said in an email sent out to colleagues on Oct. 3, 2019.

“I’ve done the Equity Arcata stuff in the city; that I am immensely proud of,” Johnson said.

STEPS TOWARD EQUITY

During her time at HSU, Johnson was responsible for a number of initiatives that took on policy changes.

Some include: updating Appendix J for faculty to address equity; establishing the role of equity advocates, who now sit on all search committees; and developing the President’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council, which advises the President on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Strategic Plan for 2020.

“My vision was to change policy,” Johnson said. “Like I had told the Provost, equity’s about systems change.”

Johnson said her vision included bringing in key people to work with her. She said this included someone that was going to work with faculty and staff development on issues of equity and diversity, and someone in the community.

Meridith Oram came in March 2018 as the Community Development Specialist for ODEI and Dr. Edelmira Reynoso joined ODEI August 2018 as the Associate Director.

“Cheryl, she was a great leader for all of us,” Oram said. “Her style was candid, I appreciated that — even if it was hard to hear, I really appreciated that.”

Oram’s work with ODEI focuses on systemic change for equity at HSU, with a focus on TK-12 schools, and working with Equity Arcata.

Oram said she hopes to continue leading the work toward shaping policy — to serve students with Cheryl in spirit.

Reynoso, who was recently announced as Interim Executive Director for ODEI, said she’s hopeful that she can carry out Johnson’s vision.

“Cheryl started changing the dynamic here,” Reynoso said. “It’ s big shoes to fill. She was a strong voice in the community.”

As of now, it’s not clear how long Reynoso will serve as Interim Executive Director or if the Associate Director position will be filled. The Provost did not respond after multiple attempts in trying to contact him.

“There’s not a lot we can share at this point,” Grant Scott-Goforth said, HSU’s Communications Specialist. “There is no timeline right now; the Provost will be working with the President’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council to discuss the position.”

MOVING FORWARD

Johnson looks forward to her new position at Skyline College, where her role as Dean of Student Equity and Support, she’ll be responsible for starting an intercultural and multicultural center, as well as working with TRiO — a Federal outreach program designed to identify and provide services for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

As her time at HSU came to an end on Oct. 11, she said was sorry to go. She said students of color at HSU have to be resilient. Her advice to students was that if they can learn to navigate the system here, she’d be sure they could learn to do it everywhere.

“On paper, governmental things, we’re an HSI and MSI – a Hispanic serving institution and a minority-serving institution – because we’re over 40% of students of color,” Johnson said.  “So I would like that to be celebrated and acknowledged, not negated.”

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