University names new head of CDI, associate chancellor and dean
Emelyn dela Pena will serve as the new dean of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, as well as associate vice chancellor for students, Washington University announced Monday. She will begin her role Oct. 31.
Currently, dela Pena serves as assistant dean of student life for equity, diversity and inclusion in the Office of Student Life at Harvard College. She will replace LaTanya Buck, the founding director of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI), who left for Princeton University in July to serve as their new dean for diversity and inclusion.
Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Lori White said that the appointment was made just before the Sept. 1 deadline and that everyone who had met with dela Pena had been impressed by her. White noted that dela Pena’s years of experience in the diversity and inclusion field through multiple leadership, research and teaching positions made her remarkably fit for the job.
“She has a wealth of experience both working with students and leading campus wide conversations on these issues and also, this is the field of her own research, so this is just a great combination,” White said.
White also commented that the search brought in a well-rounded pool of candidates from a range of institutions: “At some point, we all just steal from one another.”
Senior Jordan Victorian, who met with dela Pena during the search process, said that he was excited about being a “full CDI family again,” and that dela Pena seemed quite well-suited to the task.
“I just got this sense that she was very smart both in the way that she approaches things but in part because of the ways that she thinks about what she does and how institutions work and how to balance those things, because they’re not always easily matching up,” Victorian said. “I got a really good vibe, it seemed like she really knew what she was doing.”
Victorian also noted that the upgrade of the position itself was very important.
“I’m definitely excited that the director position is also the dean and associate vice chancellor position, which makes them more entrenched in the University’s structure and gives them more clout, and also gives students someone with more power to rely on who is directly tied to diversity and inclusion work,” Victorian said.
Assistant director Purvi Patel has been running the CDI since Buck’s departure this summer with the help of a nearly tripled graduate student staff. Patel said that she was excited for the breadth of experience dela Pena would be bringing to the role, noting that it speaks volumes about the University’s standing in the community.
“I think there’s a lot of possibility here…Wash. U.’s senior leadership seems to be prepared to be responsive and provide resources,” Patel said. “The possibility of creating something that is right for right now and for fifty years from now for students is a once in a lifetime opportunity. At other institutions, you might be operating off of structures and organizational dynamics that are dated, and paradigms that are old, and sometimes that can be hard to change…it’s really fast moving, and you see your impact really quickly.”