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The seed of an idea from one faculty member planted in the mind of one administrator blossomed Wednesday afternoon into a full-fledged celebration of faculty diversity.

In a first-of-its-kind event, the three multicultural faculty caucuses came together to recognize 76 faculty members who reached career milestones in the past five years.

“This is a really exciting occasion,” said the administrator, Taffye Benson Clayton, associate vice chancellor and chief diversity officer, in her opening remarks at the inaugural Celebration of Faculty Diversity, Achievement and Success.

Clayton thanked the faculty member who first proposed the idea of a celebration to her, Paul Cuadros, chair of the Latina/o Caucus and an associate professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. “With celebrations like this,” she said, “we underscore how integral a diverse faculty inclusive of the starkly under-represented minority population is to Carolina’s long-standing brand of academic excellence.”

The chairs of the American Indian Caucus, the Carolina Black Caucus and the Latina/o Caucus presented awards in three categories: faculty who became full professors, associate professors and faculty with 12 years of service and faculty with seven years of service.

The event was mostly a celebration, but also became a time to reflect on recent protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York, that have called attention to racial disparities that still exist in the nation.

“This is another tough time at our university,” said Chancellor Carol L. Folt, recalling many recent meetings she has had with students to discuss race-related issues. “You’re the people that those students talk about being their lifeline in this institution.”

James W. Dean Jr., executive vice chancellor and provost also commented on news events he called “disconcerting.”

“We have much work to do as a nation,” he said. “Clearly, we have a long way to go to achieve the ideals that we share – ideals of access, ideals of equality, ideals of mutual respect and even ideals of safety and security.”

Dean, whose office was a sponsor of the event, quoted 19th century philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill for recognizing the value of “being in contact with people dissimilar to themselves.”

“Advancing diversity is a moral imperative as well as, Mill says, a practical one,” Dean said, calling the faculty members about to be recognized “essential members of our community.”

While celebrating diversity achieved so far, Felicia Washington, vice chancellor for workforce strategy, equity and engagement, also recognized the need for the University to do more. She asked the caucus members to help Carolina recruit more under-represented faculty members, pointing out that a more diverse faculty means a more diverse student body.

“We have as a goal to attract more students from under-represented groups,” she said. “I believe that having faculty who mirror whom we want to attract will be quite beneficial in doing that.”

Cuadros pointed out that this event spotlighting diversity actually led to the collaboration of the three multicultural faculty groups. “We’re really here to celebrate diversity, but the other side of that coin is unity,” he said. “And this was an event to bring our caucuses together.”

Clayton said she hoped the event would be held every three years.

By Susan Hudson, University Gazette

Published December 11, 2014