Villalpando steps down as chief diversity officer

N-Diversity Colby Patterson
Photo courtesy of Equity and Diversity.

Photo courtesy of Equity and Diversity.

The U will begin their search for a new chief diversity officer, as Octavio Villalpando is stepping down from the role to return to a full-time faculty position.

“After more than seven years as the university’s chief diversity officer, I have decided to return to one of my passions as a full-time professor, teaching and conducting research on diversity in higher education,” Villalpando said in a letter published on the U’s Office for Equity and Diversity website.

Villalpando feels the U has made significant progress in its enrollment and retention of underrepresented students on campus during his tenure in the position.

He said the number of students from ethnic minorities has doubled in the last decade, and retention rates have increased dramatically. Villalpando also said the environment for LGBT students on campus continues to improve by promoting greater awareness and campus involvement for these students.

“As the diversity in the state continues to grow, the U is very well positioned to continue to enroll and support the success of greater numbers of underrepresented students,” Villalpando said.

Students were initially concerned about rumors that Villalpando had been asked to resign. In December, a group of students organized a peaceful sit-in protest outside U President David Pershing’s office to demand an explanation for the rumored forced resignation. At the time, Pershing dismissed the rumors and assured students that Villalpando would continue in his position after taking a brief sabbatical.

The student demonstration may have urged the Office for Equity and Diversity to take a tactful approach in handling the current transition between officers. Villalpando has encouraged students to support Kathryn Stockton, a U professor in English, as she becomes the interim stand-in for the position after this year’s commencement ceremony.

Last May, Stockton received the Rosenblatt Prize for Excellence, which is considered the U’s most prestigious award for faculty members. She received a doctorate from Brown University as well as a master’s of divinity from Yale University Divinity School. Most of her published research focuses on the dynamics of gender, sexuality and race.

“Students are the real enticement of this job,” Stockton said. “As a scholar, I work at the seam where issues of race and sexuality cross each other asymmetrically. What can we learn together about these tense but exciting angles of connection?”

Stockton said creating a safe place for students is among her priorities as interim chief diversity officer.

“Creating a safe space for these students especially is a major goal, but always with the aim of crafting in the classroom what I like to call ‘equal opportunity dangerous thinking,’ ” Stockton said. “One of the dangerous thoughts to pursue with the students is preposterous, ostentatious generosity with each other.”

Stockton will serve in the position as the U looks for a long-term replacement. The search will start in Fall 2014 and is expected to take several months as the school considers qualified candidates across the country.

a.lillie@chronicle.utah.edu