Leadership Interview With Rickey Hall
Vice President for Minority Affairs & Diversity and Chief Diversity Officer

Congratulations on your one-year anniversary! What drew you here to the UW?

I had been aware of the University of Washington and its diversity efforts for some time. At the University of Minnesota, my predecessors had visited UW, and I subsequently brought staff here to look at what the Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity (OMA&D) was doing, in particular with the Instructional Center and with First-Year Interest Groups. Therefore, I already knew that the UW was at the forefront in terms of working with underrepresented minority, first-generation, and low-income students. Beyond that, I was also incredibly excited about coming here because of the leadership. One of the things I’ve learned working in higher education for the past 20 years is that more than the location of the institution, more than the mission of the institution, what’s most important in terms of equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts is the leadership. When I came across the Race & Equity Initiative, I was certainly impressed. It was a bold stance for a leader to make and that President Cauce made it when she was an interim was especially bold. Most leaders would hesitate to champion something like this initiative because you don’t know where it might lead or what it might stir up, but President Cauce stepped up and said we’re going to tackle this.

Another thing, too, that set the UW and the Race & Equity Initiative apart was that race was put front and center. Sometimes folks who are uncomfortable talking about race, racism, and things of that nature will use diversity as a smokescreen and then avoid issues of race altogether. To have President Cauce name it and make race core to this initiative showed me the level of commitment and just how seriously this was being taken. It makes me think of Lani Guinier and Gerald Torres’s book, “The Miner’s Canary.” The idea of race being our canary in this country is a wonderful analogy. Guinier and Torres argue that how things are going with race is an indicator of our overall health as a nation, and that if you really work on that issue and make good progress; you will then make progress in other areas.

Over the past year, what have been your impressions of the Race & Equity Initiative and the work being done here?

With an institution of this size and scope, the environment is complex and there are many competing priorities. However, the commitment to the initiative and to diversity, equity, and inclusion remains strong. It’s not only President Cauce; Provost Baldasty, Vice Provost and Dean Ed Taylor, and others, too, are incredibly supportive of and committed to this work. Ed had been chairing the steering committee for the Race & Equity Initiative and could have passed that task onto me when I came on board, but instead he invited me to co-chair it with him. It has truly been a partnership between us, as well as a partnership across University leadership and with the president. We are all in this together.

Meanwhile, the Board of Regents and the UW Foundation, just to name two bodies, have created diversity and inclusion committees, and many deans and chancellors I have met with have their own efforts and initiatives. They are really talking about structural issues of racism in their schools and on their campuses. It is wonderful how leaders in their respective areas have embraced the initiative.

The 2017–2021 Diversity Blueprint was recently published and we’re entering the third year of the Race & Equity Initiative. Where do you see things going from here?

As I was coming on, work was being done to roll out the new version of the Diversity Blueprint, and we’ve been very intentional in our approach. Those who were helping to draft the Blueprint were mindful of what was taking place with the Race & Equity Initiative, and the Race & Equity Initiative going forward is mindful of the priorities and goals outlined in the Blueprint, so there’s great alignment.

The Race & Equity Initiative was originally framed as a three-year initiative, but this work is important, it’s complex, it’s ever-changing, and it’s not going to end. We will always be working on it—it just might look different depending on how it evolves over time.

The initiative was a catalyst, and I believe it has expanded our ideas not just of what’s integral but what’s possible. Areas I see us tackling include increased communication, diversity education and training, and assessing the campus climate. Another thing I want to do better is lift up the research that’s taking place across diversity, equity, and inclusion at the UW. We have nationally renowned scholars here doing great work in this space, and in the coming years I want to make sure we’re telling that story.

How do you see your role and OMA&D’s role moving forward?

OMA&D certainly must continue its core mission to create access and then support the success of underrepresented and educationally and economically disadvantaged populations. It’s that focus that has made UW’s retention and graduation rates for underrepresented minority students by far the best in the state and exceptional even at the national level.

Beyond that, I’m also looking at key players and major units to see where we can help centrally drive the discussion and advance the goals of the Diversity Blueprint. I’ll be meeting with deans, vice presidents, and other leaders to look at the six priorities outlined in the blueprint and discuss what two or three they can commit to working on. Every college, every campus, every administrative unit is at a different place and has different pressures, so it is important to choose priorities that align with goals that reflect the situation and weave into work that is already being done, or needs to be done, at an organizational level.

What more would you like leaders to know, and what steps can they take to contribute to moving things forward?

Diversity is happening whether people like it or not; we are going to be more racially diverse in coming years. That is and will continue to happen, so as an institution we need to work on the inclusion piece. For me, inclusion is about the lived experience. How do we leverage all of the talents we have inside the institution? How do we value all the perspectives that come from different racial and ethnic backgrounds and from other experiences? Diversity in many ways is the access mission, making sure that you have certain populations represented, but inclusion is about what happens when they’re here. What is the experience of women faculty in the College of Engineering? What is the experience of American Indians when they get to campus?

As far as what individuals can do, there is a role for each of us to play. One thing I always tell people is to lead from where you are. Although we might not recognize it, we all have spheres of influence, so you need to think about what that means for you and don’t give yourself an easy out. One of President Cauce’s key messages with the Race & Equity Initiative is that we are all accountable; we are all responsible for working on these issues and making things better. That’s the only way we really transform the institution and make it a place that’s welcoming, accessible, and inclusive of all.

A second thing is to recognize that these issues are complex and ever-changing, that we’re going to make mistakes, and that’s okay. What I ask is that folks have a little grace with those who are trying. For folks who try and then make a mistake, the best thing is to acknowledge it. Don’t discount it but instead acknowledge it and learn from it. People will respect that. You learn, you grow, you move forward. Part of that, too, is the education piece. The Race & Equity Initiative has done a phenomenal job with training, and diversity education and training will continue in the future through the Diversity Blueprint. We can all take part in that and also read articles and books to further our understanding.

There are opportunities for staff and faculty at all levels to be involved. I ask people to think about what one or two things you can do personally to be better and to help your unit or the University be better when it comes to race, equity, and inclusion. How can you ensure that the spaces you are in are more welcoming, accessible, and inclusive? Think about it and make a real commitment to it.

Any final thoughts as you look back over your first year and into the future?

I am so excited to be here and to reflect not just on what we’ve accomplished and what is happening now, but also what could be. As OMA&D celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2018, we will do exactly that. It will be a wonderful opportunity to honor our rich legacy, celebrate our impact, and imagine the possibilities for the next 50 years. But I don’t want people to think I’m saying the UW is perfect. It’s not; no place is. That said, I’ve been a few places and I can tell you we have some good, strong leadership here, and when it comes to this work, that’s what really matters. However, it’s not just President Cauce. She named it. She made a bold move and challenged all of us with the Race & Equity Initiative, and from what I can tell, challenge accepted. It is now in all of our hands to move this institution forward.


Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity

Diversity at the UW

UW Diversity Blueprint: 2017–2021

Race & Equity Initiative

“The Miner's Canary: Enlisting Race, Resisting Power, Transforming Democracy” by Lani Guinier and Gerald Torres

Summer 2017 | Return to Issue Home