University of North Georgia President Bonita Jacobs has named Sheila Caldwell adviser to the president on diversity.
Caldwell’s appointment to the position comes after the school held a meeting with students in May discussing their diversity concerns, a meeting sparked by what many called an unfortunate choice of a stock image on the cover of a UNG catalog earlier this year.
Caldwell said examples are available daily in the United States of people being “severely sanctioned for not being culturally sensitive.” With the nation’s workforce becoming more diverse, Caldwell said UNG wants to be proactive in promoting sensitivity.
“We want our students to be prepared,” Caldwell said. “There’s a shift in demographics. This is a way to think forward and get ahead and make sure that we are preparing students.”
Cristian Ramos, a junior communication major, was among a group of students who met with Caldwell on Tuesday. While he hopes for further attention to diversity at UNG — particularly having someone able to speak Spanish in the admissions office — he welcomed the appointment of a diversity adviser.
“There’s good talk being started from faculty to students,” Ramos said. “It’s a good start. A little bit late, but a good start.”
Paul Glaze, also a junior communication major, said work remains but “all indications are that they are going to take it seriously.”
In addition to immediate goals of making a diversity statement and diversity strategic plan, UNG is looking to start a presidential diversity speaker series and give awards for faculty and staff who champion diversity.
Diana Vela-Martinez, a sophomore pre-med major, said having a diversity adviser is a good idea but that all faculty should have to take classes emphasizing the role of diversity and sensitivity.
Caldwell said Jacobs is leading an effort to have faculty and staff take a course where they can earn a diversity certificate, with Caldwell calling that class “encouraged and available.”
Caldwell came to UNG in July 2013 as director of the school’s Complete College Georgia initiative, which aims to increase the number of Georgians with some level of college education to 60 percent. She will also continue in that role.
Caldwell said “the whole intent of diversity is to foster mutual respect.”
Earlier this year, Caldwell earned the Dr. Louise McBee Scholarship from the Georgia Association of Women in Higher Education, an award recognizing “leadership, academic excellence and community service in the field of higher education.”
Maria Palacios, a senior finance major, called Caldwell “a great worker” and “a great person,” but she said the position should be full-time instead of part-time.
Gabriela Batista-Vargas, a senior political science major, similarly praised Caldwell while questioning diversity adviser being a part-time role. Batista-Vargas, who is a student leader for special events and student orientation leader, said UNG’s Gainesville campus is very diverse but that the Dahlonega campus has “barely any diversity.”
Caldwell said one of her goals is to bridge that gap by increasing diversity of students, faculty and staff at each of UNG’s four campuses.
Jacobs said Caldwell should help the university continue to take steps forward in diversity matters.
“Our Diversity Council, which was started in 2014, is helping UNG take significant actions to ensure that our commitment to diversity is clear and that our university community appreciates the importance of diversity,” Jacobs said in a news release. “Building on the work already underway, Sheila will work with our constituencies to develop and implement initiatives that will enable all members of the university community to thrive and contribute to our mission of educating and preparing students to become leaders in a diverse and global society.”
The stock image that made national news depicted two white men crossing a finish line, a woman falling behind and a black man behind her stumbling toward the finish. While that issue brought diversity into the spotlight, Caldwell said the university has been attentive to diversity for years.
Vela-Martinez welcomes the steps UNG has taken, but she said it’s vital that the “learning experience for the school” is met with full action. She said the catalog upset many students, even those who aren’t minorities. Vela-Martinez said more resources for diversity and more staff who are bilingual and have diverse backgrounds will help students feel like the issue is resolved.
Caldwell has a master’s degree in educational leadership from Argosy University and is pursuing a doctoral degree in workforce education from the University of Georgia. Her bachelor’s degree is in marketing from Northern Illinois University.