Photo courtesy of Mary Grace Almandrez

The University of Rhode Island recently announced the hiring of new Interim Chief Diversity Officer, Dr. Mary Grace A. Almandrez.

Almandrez is working towards creating an inclusive environment for both the students and staff of the University. Through various goals and strategies she plans to implement over time, Almandrez is working towards ensuring that all students have the proper resources to achieve all they are capable of.

Almandrez poses the question, “What can we do to remove barriers and create liberating structures for all of us to thrive?”

First being introduced to URI through graduate students in the College Student Personnel Program, Almandrez had worked with several graduate interns at Brown University before she began her position at URI.

“My first exposure to URI was through the students,” Almandrez states. They were very impressive, really hungry to work on these issues, and were passionate about leadership.”

Further being exposed to the University after an invitation to be a keynote speaker at the Rose Butler Browne Mentorship Dinner, Almandrez was able to meet with a group of undergraduate students that stood out to her in particular.

While not only the students have impressed Almandrez, the faculty and staff have also had a lasting impact on her positive view of the University. Faculty and senior leaders, including President of URI, David Dooley, have inspired her through a strong commitment to diversity. By having a strong and committed faculty, Almandrez believes that very great steps towards diversity will be achieved.

Almandrez explained her main goal as, “The overall vision for me is to see an institutional transformation. How can we provide opportunities for the campus community, to not only to learn about social justice, but integrate it into their work, their curriculum, and their co-curricular lives.”

To achieve this, Almandrez discussed new implications she plans to activate during her time in this position. Through providing a new instrument to assess the campus climate to measure a potential need for more diversity and inclusion experiences, strengthening collaborations with faculty, including students in community, equity, and diversity initiatives, and offering social justice and inclusion training to faculty and students, Almandrez has a positive vision for the future of the University.

In addition to these new implementations, she also elaborated on her three main goals while in this position. With one of these goals being to listen and learn.

“There is so much good work that has been done around diversity, and I need to learn what they are, and I want to build on those milestones,” she said. “I don’t want to recreate the wheel, I don’t want to duplicate efforts, I want to honor the good work that has been done and expand that.”

She also expressed her desire to begin the conversation in understanding and working towards social justice initiatives, stating, “I want to lead the campus community in a process where we develop a shared vision around the scope of community equity and diversity and the role of the chief diversity officer.”

Not only does Almandrez believe that the University can be productive with social justice issues as an individual, but her third goal involves URI becoming a model for other universities concerning diversity and inclusion.

Almandrez said, “I want us to be an exemplary model of how a University integrates social justice principles into the fabric of the institution.”

Having a great motivation to pursue a career in social justice, Almandrez explained the driving force behind her work. She explained how crucial it was for her to feel comfortable and develop a sense of belonging in her environment throughout her education as Filipino American.

Elaborating on her very own college experience, Almandrez explained, “In many ways, I do this work out of a personal commitment and experience for what I have felt like having been isolated before, and then finding a home on campus.”

Through providing the proper resources for students to succeed while creating a sense of belonging, she hopes to create a community in which all students can thrive.

Almandrez stated, “What I want is for all of the students here to feel like they can be their best selves, and that they can be successful in all that they want to do, and in all of who they are in their various identities.”

Previously, having been the dean of students at Brown University, Almandrez has a broad history of pursuing a career in higher education in various positions around the country. Through multicultural affairs, diversity, and social justice work, Almandrez has worked in higher-ed for the entirety of her adult life.

Enthusiastic to begin working towards social justice initiatives in her new position, Almandrez stated, “I am very excited to be here and I look forward to partnering with the campus community to do good work.”

Almandrez is excited to begin her work at URI and encourages students to visit her office hours on Wednesdays from 2:15 to 4 p.m., which are open to all students.