On Oct. 4, President Laurie Carter announced Dr. Eric Mayes as the new Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). Mayes is currently serving as the founding executive director of the Center for Educational Equity and associate professor within the College of Education and Health Professions at the University of Arkansas.
Beginning in November, Mayes will be in the office and overseeing the current DEI initiatives, including development of an Antiracism Task Force plan, improvement on the Bias Incident Report process, continued effort on a permanent hate speech policy, a Preferred Name Policy as well as 20 other initiatives, as stated in the community email announcing his hiring.
The administration has been searching for new candidates to fill the vacancy of the position since this August, following former Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion Kimberly Barrett’s retirement.
At the end of the hiring process, the search committee, which consisted of student, staff and faculty representatives, made its recommendation for Mayes to President Carter, according to Michael Mizrahi, Professor of Music and faculty representative on the search committee.
During an interview with the committee, Mayes conveyed an understanding and urgency to address the challenges about DEI at Lawrence, Director of Human Resources Tina Harrig said. His philosophy on effective communication and his ability to facilitate change were areas of strength that the search committee believes will greatly benefit our community, Harrig said.
Assistant to the President and Secretary to the Board of Trustees Christyn Abaray said that Mayes’ experience in DEI and passion in his past research and expressions, as well as knowledge regarding how to push a community towards DEI, made him stand out as the best candidate.
“From the beginning of the interview… Dr. Mayes stood out,” Abaray said. “It just crystalized when he visited the campus … How quickly you can see how he is seeing himself here and asking questions as if he is already here.”
Junior Malcolm Davis, the chair of Lawrence’s Committee on Diversity Affairs (CODA) and a student representative on the search committee, feels connected to Mayes’ background as a BIPOC individual who understands how it feels to be a part of the marginalized student body. Mayes has been a professor and a staff member in higher education institutions, Davis said, and with these multidimensional experiences, he will be able to connect and communicate with every part of the campus.
Before his position at the University of Arkansas, Mayes served as an assistant professor of educational leadership and chair of the school’s Diversity and Civility Committee at John Hopkins University’s School of Education. Prior to that, Mayes worked at the Children’s Defense Fund as a national deputy director, leading initiatives surrounding national education reform, service learning, social justice and leadership development.
With all the political movements occurring across the country in recent years, Abaray said the demand for expertise in DEI is high in many organizations. The administration wanted to coordinate a well–thought out and yet quick process to find the best candidate, Abaray said.
As part of this, the search committee determined a set of requirements for the new Vice President for DEI. The committee was looking for an individual who understands Lawrence in its needs and challenges regarding DEI, collaborates with different constituencies on campus and plans to be especially visible to campus, according to Davis.
“As the student [representatives]…[we] really pushed to advocate in the interview for someone who is going to be visible to campus,” Davis said. “It will be someone who is going to advocate for everybody on campus.”
Mizrahi added that the search committee was also looking for someone with a clear vision of how their past experiences and expertise could help Lawrence make positive changes in the area of DEI, Mizrahi said.
According to Abaray, the administration collaborated with search firm Carrington & Carrington Ltd., which was responsible for searching for and reaching out to candidates based on a position description drafted by the search committee in early August. Carrington & Carrington also administered a screening process before the candidates came to Lawrence for the final interview, Abaray said.
In September, the search committee interviewed the final candidates at their visits to campus, according to Rosa Tapia, professor of Spanish and a faculty representative on the search committee. The candidates spent time with representatives on the search committee and toured Appleton to gain a better understanding of the Lawrence community, according to Abaray.
Davis also emphasized the importance of the position being filled at this time. Diversity organizations’ leaders are tired from leading diversity projects on campus, Davis said, and having administration working on DEI initiatives is important so that there is a leader who can oversee these projects.