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All are responsible for diversity, hopeful says

BY NICOLE KARLIS | APRIL 23, 2010 7:30 AM

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Increasing diversity on a college campus will take more than just an addition to University of Iowa President Sally Mason’s cabinet, Lawrence Potter said on Thursday.

Potter, one of five individuals vying for the UI cabinet post of chief diversity officer, said achieving a diverse campus means everyone participates.

“Not one person is responsible for diversity,” Potter said during a public forum Thursday morning in the IMU.

The executive director of institutional diversity and chief diversity officer at the University of St. Thomas, in St. Paul, Minn., came to campus to state his case for why he should head the UI’s diversity efforts.

The chief diversity officer position includes monitoring equity efforts among students, staff, and faculty. The chief diversity officer also will oversee offices that direct programs for underrepresented populations and mediate discrimination and harassment complaints.

Before gaining his position in St. Paul, Potter was an associate professor and department chairman of Africana studies and English at Western Michigan University.

He served as the first chief diversity officer at St. Thomas when the university created the position in 2005. In the role, Potter created events, such as the Black History Month Gala, which raised more than $450,000 for scholarship funding and led the campus toward being more “diversity competent,” in his own words. Potter iterated he had the same goal for Iowa.

Those who have worked closely with the New Orleans native laud his leadership.

Edna Comedy, the associate vice president for human resources at St. Thomas University, said Potter’s smarts separated him from other applicants. She served on the search committee that helped hire him.

“He’s a very intelligent and bright individual,” she said. “He’s extremely analytical.”

Comedy also noted Potter’s other contributions. His office issues a full-color biennial report about campus diversity. For example, the 2005-06 summary details first-year achievements of creating a series of dialogues on the subject of diversity, appointing a council and holding a workshop on “transforming the college experience for students of color,” among several other items.

His office also organized an opinion survey about the campus climate in 2007, offering money and prize incentives for participating students, faculty, and staff.

At the forum Thursday, Potter defined “diversity” as more than a unique identity; the noun encompasses ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and disability, among other traits.

“A collective mixture is what diversity is,” Potter said.

Potter, on an American Council on Education fellowship at DePaul University in Chicago, received a B.A. from Stillman College, a historically black college in Tuscaloosa, Ala. He then obtained a Ph.D. in English from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

The final candidate for the position will be on campus April 26-27 and will speak publicly at 10 a.m. Monday in 2520D University Capitol Centre.


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