PSU fills new VP for diversity, equity, inclusion

Michelle Cromwell

PLATTSBURGH — A woman with long experience in fostering diversity has been tapped for a new position at SUNY Plattsburgh.

Dr. Michelle Cromwell has been named SUNY Plattsburgh vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion.

She comes to the university from Regis College in Weston, Mass, where she is associate vice president for inclusive excellence and chief diversity officer.

Cromwell slated to start her new job here in July.

“Dr. Cromwell brings a strong array of credentials and a track record of success to this role,” SUNY Plattsburgh President John Ettling said in a press release.

“She understands the integral nature of this work and how it must permeate an entire campus community. She has led such efforts and will do so here.

“I am very pleased she will be joining the college leadership team.”

UNDER A CLOUD

Cromwell will also serve as chief diversity officer.

That job for many years had been held by Dr. J.W. Wiley, whose employment with SUNY Plattsburgh was terminated last June for reasons the college did not disclose.

Wiley, however, spoke of what he called unfounded accusations of sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct by students over the years.

He said last winter that the college had launched an investigation into his behavior.

In return, Wiley filed a claim last April with the New York State Department of Human Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and is now suing the university and Ettling, Title IX Coordinator Butterfly Blaise, former Title IX intern Vrinda Kumar and the Student Association in U.S. District Court, Northern District of New York

In large part, the litigation cites race or gender discrimination.

SUNY Plattsburgh’s Center for Diversity, Pluralism and Inclusion continued to operate after Wiley’s departure, reporting to the Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs.

INCLUSIVE EXCELLENCE

As vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion, Cromwell will lead the creation and implementation of policies and approaches that build on the college’s commitment to inclusive excellence, the release said.

She will also take charge of the further development, implementation and ongoing assessment of SUNY Plattsburgh’s strategic plan for diversity, equity and inclusion.

Her office will also help establish and nurture collaborative partnerships with college leadership, faculty, students, staff, collective bargaining units, the greater Plattsburgh community and other SUNY institutions.

PRAISING PORTIA

Ettling commended Portia Turco, who held the post of interim chief diversity officer over the past academic year, for achieving important work on campus.

During her tenure, SUNY Plattsburgh opened a new Center for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion — a space encompassing the Community HUB (Honoring, Uniting, Building) — in Angell College Center.

The Title IX office is also located there.

“Portia worked tirelessly over the past year on behalf of the entire campus community,” Ettling said. “Her efforts were critical in areas ranging from bias response to new programming in the new Community HUB.

“I deeply appreciate her leadership and enthusiasm.”

IMPRESSED BY PSU

Cromwell earned her bachelor’s degree in social work at the University of the West Indies in St. Augustine, Trinidad in 1998, her master’s in dispute resolution in 2001 and her doctorate in conflict analysis and resolution with a specialty in ethnic conflicts in 2006, both at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, F

“I believe I can make a significant contribution to collaboratively enhance what is already present and create new initiatives to build a diverse and inclusive institution,” Cromwell said in the release.

“Throughout my 14-year career in higher education, I have placed priority on the practice and scholarship that enable me to remain current in diversity and inclusion in higher education.

“Best practices in these important areas are constantly changing and challenged.

“I am struck by the commitment that SUNY Plattsburgh demonstrates to make these areas functioning parts of the institutional culture and memory. I am particularly impressed that Plattsburgh has many of the important inclusive excellence pieces of the puzzle already on the table,” she added.

EQUITY-MINDED

As associate vice president at Regis College, a position she held since fall 2017, Cromwell was focused on equity-minded initiatives and was instrumental in:

• Institutionalizing the Kente Ceremony.

• Rebranding the inclusive Excellence Council, which she co-chaired.

• Coordinating an art exhibit on racism, sexism and genocide with world-renowned artists and filmmakers during Black History, International Women’s and Genocide Awareness months.

• Establishing a three-person staff Center for Inclusive Excellence.

• Coordinating system-wide education efforts to introduce restorative practices, racial justice, brave spaces and other equity-based topics.

Among other achievements, she also developed a Student Diversity Council and coordinated an inclusivity employee survey to provide data for evidence-based initiatives.

From 2016 to 2017, Cromwell was chief diversity officer at the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vt.

She was an associate professor in the Department of Politics and Social Justice, and served as director of the honors program, at Regis College from 2013 to 2016.

From 2005 to 2013, she had an affiliation with Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill, Mass., first as an associate with the school’s Center for Inclusive Leadership and then as an associate professor and chair of the Department of Social and Political Systems.

RESPONSIBILITIES

At SUNY Plattsburgh, Cromwell will work with the other college vice presidents and academic deans.

She will also network with Human Resource Services, Affirmative Action, Title IX, Strategic Enrollment Management, the Faculty Senate, the Center for Teaching Excellence, collective bargaining units and other stakeholders.

Her responsibilities will include:

• Creating and implementing the college’s diversity and inclusion plans and updates

• Cultivating and promoting inclusive work and learning environments that encourage and support initiatives such as workshops, multicultural and appreciation events and advocacy for faculty, staff, students and alumni affinity groups that support initiatives promoting campus learning that is diverse and inclusive.

• Serving as the President’s Cabinet liaison to the Social Justice Advisory Council and other task forces, committees and activities that work toward a unified college-wide effort to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion.

• Supervising Title IX and related programs.

• Co-chairing the Bias Response Team to ensure fair and equitable implementation of bias-related protocol and prevention strategies.

FEELS AT HOME

SUNY Plattsburgh launched the search for a vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion in January 2019, with the goal of filling the post by the end of the spring semester.

Cromwell said meeting her future colleagues and members of the community made her feel at home among strangers.

“For me, coming to Plattsburgh feels very much like coming home,” she said. “I felt a unique sense of connection with people I met, and I am so excited to come home.”

Email Suzanne Moore:

smoore@pressrepublican.com

Twitter: @editorSuzanne

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