Administrator looks to foster culture of inclusion

The administrator who massively overhauled the University’s disciplinary policies will now focus on creating a campus climate that embraces a broad range of backgrounds.

Former Assistant Dean of Students Tara Pereira is becoming a foot soldier for anti-discrimination and cultural inclusion efforts at GW, after more than a decade of focusing on making disciplinary procedures more transparent.

Pereira will set out to gauge the University’s pulse on diversity-related issues and target areas where additional attention or training is needed to promote campus inclusion.

She said she will ask questions like, “Is the campus environment really the gender-neutral place that we want it to be, that it allows men and women and those who are transgendered or don’t identify as a gender to walk this campus comfortably and freely?”

Pereira joins the University’s newly created diversity office, which is led by Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion Terri Harris Reed and Assistant Provost for Diversity and Inclusion Helen Cannaday Saulny.

Reed – who just completed her first year at the University – hopes that Pereira and Saulny will help morph GW into a campus where “our differences provide an educational advantage and prepare us for citizenship and leadership in a diverse and global society.”

As head of campus inclusion initiatives, Pereira will look at cultural differences across the University and act as a liaison to the Multicultural Student Services Center, Disability Support Services and the Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service.

“I think for students, faculty and staff, it’s about thriving, growing, connecting to the University in a meaningful way – not just connecting to your friends or not just connecting to your major – but feeling part of The George Washington University,” Pereira said.

Pereira’s new position is another step in University President Steven Knapp’s diversity and inclusion efforts, which led to the creation of the Council on Diversity and Inclusion in 2010.

The council, which Pereira said she will “likely co-chair” or “work closely with,” comprises students, alumni, faculty and staff and meets several times each year to talk about creating a more unified campus community.

Her new position includes two parts – director of campus inclusion initiatives and deputy Title IX coordinator, meaning she is the point person for complying with the federal law on sexual harassment.

The Title IX civil rights law, which was passed in 1972, prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender and has expanded to include safeguards against sexual harassment.

The University added an administrative angle to Title IX compliance last year, after Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan directed colleges and universities to expedite their response to potential sexual assault cases.

As the Title IX coordinator, Pereira said she will largely be the “student-facing” person of the office – much like her former role – working with Colonials who were victims or perpetrators of sexual harassment. She will also work with employees who submit complaints.

Pereira hopes to make students and employees more comfortable reporting sexual abuse, violence and assault – which she calls the world’s most under-reported crimes.

She will also play a part in rewriting the University’s policies and procedures regarding sexual harassment, which have been in the works since 2010. The changes will likely be released this fall, she said, as the University ramps up its publicity of resources for students affected by sexual harassment. She said she could yet not provide more information about the changes.

With the creation of Pereira’s position, GW is going beyond the Title IX requirements set forth by the Department of Education to crack down on cases of discrimination.

Department of Education spokesman David Thomas said designated offices for preventing discrimination help “simplify the process” when issues do arise.

He added that the department “applauds” any university’s initiative to add resources devoted to awareness and promoting practices of nondiscrimination.

The transition from the University’s disciplinary arm marks a significant shift for Pereira, who oversaw the breakup of Student Judicial Services into the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities and the Office of Civility and Community Standards.

Senior Associate Dean of Students Mark Levine, who oversees student wellness efforts at GW, said the two offices will not see major structural changes with Pereira’s departure.

He added that the offices will “continue to be committed to working with students, faculty and staff at GW to uphold the highest standards of behavior and to encourage a civil community.”

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