Chief Diversity Officer Jilma Meneses will vacate her position at Portland State’s Office of Global Diversity and Inclusion on Nov. 10. After four years at PSU, Meneses plans to fill a new position as chief operations director at Concordia University.
“[Meneses] has been a great partner and advocate for social justice and equity on our campus and throughout the region,” said PSU President Wim Wiewel in a press release Oct 3. “She is a champion for all students’ rights and we will continue to build on her efforts to enact positive change.”
As the first chief diversity officer at PSU, Meneses made strides for greater diversity within the PSU community. She led the charge to start a scholarship for historically marginalized students with the President’s Equal Access Scholarship. She emphasized the recruitment of minority faculty. Since she began at PSU, 30 new faculty members of color have been hired.
When Meneses started at PSU, less than 20 percent of the incoming freshman class were students of color, and today that number has increased dramatically. Meneses said that unofficial numbers for this term show 42 percent of this term’s freshman class are people of color. Official numbers will be released the fourth week of fall term.
“That’s an amazing accomplishment,” Meneses said. “There’s no other university in the state of Oregon or in Washington with those numbers, to my knowledge. I am so proud of all of the hard work that the faculty and staff and students have done on this campus to increase that.”
Scott Gallagher, director of communications, commended Meneses for her work as chief diversity officer.
“It’s hard to argue against the fact that having a chief diversity officer who’s sitting at the executive committee, whose job it is to help increase and support diversity on campus, hasn’t had a big role in that,” Gallagher said.
Meneses emphasized the need for ongoing efforts in the areas of diversity and inclusion.
“We still need to build cultural competency on this campus, unfortunately. I call it cultural intelligence. We all need to be culturally intelligent,” Meneses said. “That’s a big goal on the agenda that needs to continue. We wanted to have more conversations with African-American students on improving the black experience on campus. We want to have more conversations with other groups on improving their experience at PSU, because it’s not just one or two groups—it’s many.”
Tony Funchess, multicultural affairs director for the Associated Students of PSU, said that student groups have organized campus conversations in order to be involved in the hiring process of a new chief diversity officer. Meneses has been in attendance.
“The Office of Global Diversity and Inclusion is the arm of the institution that reaches into those communities,” Funchess said. “It’s the voice of the institution with diverse limbs. It’s the unit that holds us accountable to the promises and missions of inclusion. It’s an opportunity to reincarnate the future of diversity at [PSU].”
“We sit in an urban setting. We should be the model of diversity and inclusion for other institutions, and we’re just not,” Funchess added. “As long as that statement is true, that is how long we need a chief diversity officer. Until we have diversity without working for it, then we need someone in our administration working for it.”
Meneses said that she has spoken with Wiewel about the future of the Office of Global Diversity and Inclusion and the chief diversity officer position.
“[Wiewel has] assured me he’s going to hire a chief diversity officer and he’s going to appoint an interim until one is hired after I leave,” Meneses said.
Gallagher spoke about filling Meneses’ vacated position.
“When you have the opportunity to hire someone, that’s a good opportunity,” Gallagher said. “You have a chance to bring someone in who has another skill set than the previous person to build upon. [Meneses has] done a great job, so again we’re trying to identify what are the needs and we’re trying to find somebody who can enhance that.”
Funchess said ASPSU will host another campus conversation with Meneses to help students understand the role of the Office of Global Diversity and Inclusion and have a voice in the future of the chief diversity officer position.
“Students are very much part of the conversation,” Meneses said. “They want diversity, they want a safe environment inclusive of all people.”