By Andre LaFontant
Amherst, MA — As Amherst College’s inaugural Chief Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Officer, Norm Jones, Ph.D. serves during a contested era of social equity on college campuses. The search to fill this position of strength was further necessitated by November 2015’s Amherst uprising, a student-led sit-in that beckoned faculty members to renounce the Lord Jeff mascot. This harkened back to the Colonial era’s biological warfare and other systemic inequalities leveled against Indigenous Peoples.
Dr. Jones was initially tasked with, what he calls, “reconciling rhetoric.” He explained, “When you look at the mission and vision statement for the college, there is language that talks about the forward movement of the institution, and the question empirically becomes, ‘What, in various datasets, demonstrates that the college has continued to make progress?’”
Dr. Jones created the oral histories project, which promoted a generational thought congregation: “We invite current students to learn more about various histories they feel connected to. The point is to ingrain in our students the notion that every day they show up on campus, they are building a legacy. This actualizes what it means to be the president of your affinity group and the extent to which you are serious about moving beyond the existing structures of the college into the active transformation of the institution. It’s powerful when you have people who were here previously talking with folks who are here now about the future and their shared investment in it.”
To make informed D&I decisions, Dr. Jones pairs his well-tenured analytical nature with the power of storytelling. “There is research that compels us to think about what is transcendent across many different groups. That requires a great deal of ethnography, as well as data analysis, and being able to use language to frame that [for]critical stakeholders across campus.”
When it comes to being both a leader and person of color, Dr. Jones understands that risk plays a large factor in his narrative: “Being a person of color can be risky in the context of one’s existence in this nation. However, to take on a leadership role means that your held identities are not prohibiting you from advancing change that is necessary. Part of what it means to be a leader in the D&I space is reminding critical stakeholders of important truths and speaking that truth, irrespective of audience.”
Join the conversation about the future of D&I on July 25th with Executive Session Speaker Norm J. Jones, Ph.D. at The 2019 Chief Diversity Officer Summit hosted by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.
Photo Description: Norm J. Jones, Ph.D. Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Amherst College. (Credit Maria Stenzel)