November 21, 2010

University Names New Temporary Director Of Diversity for AAP

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A month after receiving a letter from students concerned about a lack of support for minority students within the College of Architecture, Art and Planning, Dean Kent Kleinman has appointed a new administrator to focus on minority and diversity issues.

Rei Thompson completed her first week as assistant director of diversity and inclusiveness on Friday. Thompson is replacing Trey Waller, who served as associate director of advising and diversity for AAP before transferring to the College of Engineering earlier this year. Thompson will occupy the position until July 2011, at which point administrators hope a nationwide search will have found a permanent director.

Though some students raised concerns about the downgrading of the position to an assistant directorship, Thompson said she was prepared and eager to work closely with students to improve the minority experience in AAP.

An Ithaca native and 2009 graduate of Princeton who recently completed a master’s program at Syracuse, Thompson said that her recent university experiences and relatively young age will allow her to better understand the problems facing minority students at Cornell.

“I have been at so many academic institutions as a multicultural student, and I’ve seen so many opportunities for administrations to promote diversity, and it just wasn’t done,” Thompson said, expressing hope that she will be able to make meaningful connections with students and keep them from “slipping through the cracks.”

One of Thompson’s main goals is to develop a peer-mentoring program that will allow first-year minority students to connect with upperclassmen, who she said can seem less intimidating than administrators to young students seeking support.

Tia Hicks ’11, who signed the letter of protest to Kleinman, said she was satisfied with the administration’s promptness in filling the position and excited about Thompson’s plans — especially the mentoring program — but remained concerned about a reduction in the power connected with the position.

“I do think that the position has been filled in a timely manner and that students’ opinions were well received and respected,” she said.

She added, however, that “[Thompson’s] title being ‘assistant director’ still concerns me because there is no guarantee that her opinion and recommendations will be well received when it comes to decision-making within the college.”

Ulysses Smith ’13, the A.A.P. representative to the Student Assembly, said he was hopeful that the appointment would help improve minority recruitment and retention within the college, which he cited as two of the biggest problems facing AAP.

Smith also emphasized that though Thompson’s title designates her in charge of minority issues, she cannot be expected to make all the necessary changes alone.

“She is a part of a larger team that includes administrators and other supporting staff, faculty, and even students,” Smith said. “That being said, I am more than confident that she will be able to bring in a variety of ideas and initiatives that will help to alleviate some of the tensions within the college.”

Original Author: Eliza LaJoie