New diversity council leader brings faculty experience

The University appointed last week one of GW’s highest-ranked faculty as its newest leader for the diversity council.

Vanessa Northington Gamble will lead the committee as it doubles its membership and divides into eight subcommittees starting in January, moving to implement specific targets related to diversity set by the University’s president, provost and vice provost for diversity and inclusion.

The new chair, also a professor of health policy and American studies, officially took the helm last Monday. She was selected because of her experience as a minority faculty member and her commitment to diversity efforts throughout her professional career.

Terri Harris Reed, who was hired as the University’s first vice provost for diversity and inclusion this spring, said Gamble made strides at GW by becoming the first woman and the first black professor to hold the prestigious title of University Professor in 2007.

“She’s lived a lot of the concerns and challenges that we will face as we try to diversify our faculty,” Reed said this week. The vice provost has focused her efforts this fall on developing department-specific recruitment strategies.

The council was tasked with five priorities this summer, including diversifying faculty, creating a model to monitor ongoing diversity efforts, revamping the council’s web presence, partnering with minority members of the campus business community and expanding diversity training for employees.

The 16-member task force, which will boost its membership by more than a dozen by January, was split into eight subcommittees at the chair’s first meeting Nov. 30. The subcommittees include human resources, programming, faculty recruitment, research and student and alumni engagement,

Reed, the University’s first hire charged with widening campus demographics, said she pegged Gamble just a month after Reed’s arrival at GW. When she learned Gamble had been in the original candidate pool for the chair position, she sought out Gamble for the new opening.

“Professor Gamble made her way to my office and said, ‘Okay, I have these issues,’ and then she had all these ideas,” Reed said. “So I talked to her and said, ‘You’re right, all these things need to happen, but I can’t do it by myself.’ ”

Gamble said she was hesitant to lead the council when first offered the position due to the academic demands that come with being a University professor. As head, Gamble said in an e-mail she would build off the “incredible foundation” created by the previous chairs, and collaborate with trustees, faculty, students, staff and alumni to move forward with the University’s recommendations.

Gamble will replace sociology professor Gregory Squires, who will remain a member, and vice president and dean of Student and Academic Support Services Helen Cannaday Saulny, who will chair the Research and Evaluation Committee.

Saulny said the council would benefit from a “fresh pair of eyes,” allowing it to continue identifying areas for improvement. Reed will now assume a role as “defacto co-chair” at the end of the council’s year-long scoping phase.

Gamble said strengthening diversity and inclusion have been themes of her professional experiences at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine, where she founded one of the first centers to address ethnic and racial disparities in health care.

“Chairing the Council gives me the opportunity to work on issues that are professionally and personally very important to me,” Gamble said.

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