Office of Global Diversity & Inclusion hires chief diversity officer Carmen Suarez

Dr. Carmen Suarez, former Chief Diversity Officer at the University of Idaho, has been named new Chief Diversity Officer at Portland State. Beginning on Sept. 8, Suarez will lead PSU’s mission to build a more inclusive and diverse university community.

“Portland and PSU continue to change rapidly and need the kinds of insights and wisdom she can bring. Rarely have I seen such unanimity on campus around a candidate, so I’m really looking forward to her joining us,” PSU President Wim Wiewel said in a press release.

Suarez will replace Charles Lopez, who has acted as interim Chief Diversity Officer since 2014 when PSU’s first Chief Diversity Officer, Jilma Meneses, accepted a position as Chief Operations Director at Concordia University.

Wiewel formed a search committee in February, and an active hunt for a new Chief Diversity Officer began in early March. The search committee was on the lookout for someone to align and integrate new and existing initiatives meant to expand diversity, equity and inclusion at PSU. It took three and a half months to select Suarez, who was one of over 90 applicants.

“The Chief Diversity Officer position is an outgrowth of working the 1964 Civil Rights Act into all aspects of life,” Suarez said.

At one time or another, Suarez has held positions that encompass all of the aspects within the portfolio of the Global Diversity and Inclusion office. She works to connect with students, faculty, staff and community members, and is knowledgable in both theory and practice of inclusionary education.
Sona Andrews, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, described one of Suarez’s strengths as “her ability to use her own personal stories to engage people and get them thinking about how decisions and actions affect individuals.”

Suarez received her Bachelor and Master of Arts in History and a doctorate in Higher Education Administration from Southern Illinois University. Her dissertation focused on faculty members of color.
During her time in and out of academia, she gathered a broad range of experience. In the late 1980s, she assisted migrant farm workers in Chicago. At University of Idaho, she served as a university Affirmative Action Officer and Director of Diversity. She directed university minority student recruitment, worked with minority-owned business certifications and conducted training programs for minority students.

Suarez has focused on practical application of policy, which included affirmative action, equal employment opportunity, equal education opportunity, gender equity and race/ethnicity equity. She slowly moved into the more inclusive language of diversity before tackling the language of inclusion, which strives to overcome bias and bring diverse people to work together.

“Difference is scary. We all notice difference,” Suarez said. The goal of higher education, she continued, is to notice the difference and to take interest rather than be daunted by it.

Combating bias is one of Suarez’s passions. Shining the spotlight on unconscious and conscious expressions of bias is something she said she would like to focus on at PSU. Creating conversations around defining and understanding bias, how it’s manifested, how it’s different from hate crimes are the first steps toward addressing the complex problem, according to Suarez.

In the past, she invited speakers from national organization Campus Pride to present on a number of topics from their Stop Hate program. The program teaches people how to stop dehumanizing others through stereotypes, in order to see individuals rather than groups.

“She is passionate, not just in her words but in her actions in the local and national community,”
Andrews said.