Diversity goes beyond race

Nick Lowrey

SDSU wanted to hire someone with years of experience and a unique perspective on diversity in academics. Jaime Nolan-Andrino fit this description.

As the chief diversity officer, Nolan-Andrino is responsible for a complex list of functions, the most important being to provide leadership. That leadership will extend to almost every department in order to promote SDSU’s diversity goals.

Nolan-Andrino was hired in July to fill the position, replacing Interim Officer Tim Nichols. She has spent 18 years working to build inclusive communities all over the country. Before coming to SDSU she worked at the University of Minnesota, Colgate University in New York and most recently the University of Massachusetts in Lowell, Mass.   She has not yet created a comprehensive plan to deal with diversity issues at SDSU.  “What’s really important for me right now is to listen,” she said. “The worst thing I could do is to walk on campus and say, ‘Here’s a vision,’ and then try to impose it.”

She said there is a spirit of willingness at SDSU to include people of all backgrounds. Her definition of diversity goes beyond race and ethnicity. For her, diversity is about identity.

“I think what’s really important is to really grapple with what diversity means at SDSU, and I think it comes down to building inclusive community,” she said.

One of Nolan-Andrino’s past successes was a program she started at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y. This program, called Breaking Bread, brought student organizations that would not normally interact together to share a meal. The students planned the menu, purchased ingredients, cooked and ate the meal together.

“I had student groups working together that you might not think would … like the Latin American Student Association and the Students For Environmental Action. Just partnerships that you wouldn’t really imagine, and they did some great things on campus,” she said.  The effect of recent budget cuts on how Nolan-Andrino will go about accomplishing her mission may actually be positive. She said that the lack of money will cause her to work more closely with others to achieve diversity goals, by helping people to find common goals.

“What the current situation is asking all of us to do is to work together more collaboratively, so that we can share resources in order to get things done, and maybe get things done in a way that can be more impactful,” she said.