Karla Slocum leads the DEI Strategic Plan Committee in a workshop in Hyde Hall. The group hopes to roll out a final plan in fall 2022. (photo by Will Black)
‘The climate of our College community matters’
Karla Slocum became the College’s first associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion last July. She is the Thomas Willis Lambeth Distinguished Chair in Public Policy in the department of anthropology. We chatted with Slocum about her work since taking on the new role.
Q: Why are you passionate about leading DEI efforts in the College?
A: As someone who has been on the College faculty for over 20 years, I know that the climate of our community matters significantly for our everyday lives. For this role, I saw an opportunity to help boost the climate, attend impactfully to the experiences among our faculty and staff, and continue developing a progressive DEI structure that is a prime fit for the arts and sciences at Carolina.
Q: What have been your top priorities since becoming associate dean?
A: There are so many but two stand out. First, I’m interested in community-building and for faculty and staff to feel more included, better connected and valued. So, I have instituted spaces to encourage dialogue and exchange on issues like equity with the return to campus amid COVID-19, scholarly work on race and inclusive curricula. I see these spaces as creating learning opportunities and connections. Second, I want to help create and facilitate DEI structure-building, to ensure sustainability. For example, we have worked on building College-wide processes for undoing bias in faculty hiring and developing support systems that aid in the development and improvement of DEI structures at the department level.
Q: The College had a successful “cluster hire” this year with faculty working together across disciplines. Why are these important?
A: Cluster hires are valuable because they help create community among scholars who share research interests and whose work and identities may also be underrepresented on campus. We know that faculty thrive when they have a strong network to support them. With cluster hires, a network is already “baked in” through the group of scholars who are hired at the same time. Cluster hires also allow us to address scholarly areas that we want to grow. Our most recent cluster hire, focused on understanding wellness in communities of color and understanding U.S. slavery, helps us ensure that timely and critical subject areas are well-represented in our curriculum and scholarship.
Q: This past year, you created a staff diversity advisory committee; a faculty committee already existed. How are they working together?
A: The two committees are made up of faculty and staff from across our divisions, departments, centers, institutes and curricula. Dean Terry Rhodes and I are meeting bimonthly with the committees which, together, advise on strategies and measures for improving diversity. The needs of faculty and staff are both different and related. So, when taken together, both committees help us in thinking about DEI needs broadly for the College.
Q: You are working on a strategic plan. What’s your timeline for this?
A: Since September, I’ve been working with a fabulous committee of staff and faculty — drawn from our two Dean’s diversity advisory committees as well as the Dean’s Leadership Team — to develop a first-ever DEI strategic plan. The planning process allows us to first look deeply at where the College is on matters of DEI such as representation, equitable treatment and status of employees within our community, and the climate within departments and units. Next, we will move on to devising goals and a vision for how DEI should be set up in the College. The last part of our process is to outline a set of very specific action items for addressing DEI now and into the future. We hope to roll out the final plan in fall 2022.
Learn more about DEI in the College at college-diversity.unc.edu.
Interview by Kim Weaver Spurr ’88