An Interview with UW Chief Diversity
Officer Patrick Sims
Full Plate Agenda
|Dr. Patrick Sim is vice provost for diversity and director of the UW
Division pf Diversity, Equity
and Educational Excellence (DDEEA).
By Jonathan Gramling
It isn’t easy being the chief diversity officer at a large research
institution like UW-Madison with approximately 43,000 students and over
21,000 faculty and staff. Not only do you directly administer six pipeline
programs that touch the lives of about half of the underrepresented
students on campus, but you are also expected to make progress in
improving the campus climate for students of color and other
underrepresented groups in an environment of defused authority among
eight schools and colleges and their myriad departments. This on top of
having to do fundraising with companies and alumni in order to keep
those six pipeline programs going. It is no small task.
The administrative team of the Division of Diversity, Equity and
Educational Achievement (DDEEA), which makes this all happen, has
changed in the past year. Dr. Ruby Parades and Willie Ney retired and Dr.
Eric Williams took a post with Marquette University. Dr. Patrick Sims,
vice provost for diversity and chief diversity officer — who also heads
the DDEEA — took the opportunity to make some adjustments at the top.
“I tweaked that and I brought in two dynamite assistant vice provosts, Dr. Cheryl Gittens and Dr. Sherri Charleston who each have a slightly
different configuration of their respective portfolios focusing on two of the six pipeline programs,” Sims said. “With the model that we had
before, Dr. Eric Williams had four and Dr. Gloria Hawkins had two, Chancellor Scholars and Power-Knapp Scholars. That wasn’t a sustainable
model. So now each of the assistant vice provosts has two of our major six pipeline programs, PEOPLE, Posse, First Wave, CeO, Chancellor
Scholars and Powers-Knapp Scholars as opposed to the four and two split. And there is a part of their portfolio that deals with some of the
more central things that need to be dealt with as a division. And then are the pieces that need to be dealt with for the organization at large. To
make a long story short, we are in a space where eight people can manage the work that they are giving us. It’s still a lot of work, but it is
more manageable than it was before.”
Outside of the hard work of administering the six pipeline programs, there are two rather immediate initiatives or events on the horizon. The
first if the long awaited results of the campus climate survey.
“The climate survey was implemented a year ago, almost literally to the day,” Sims said. “We started two weeks before the November
elections. We wrapped it up the day before the election. It’s taken a while because we haven’t done anything like this where all 43,000
students had the option to take the survey. The scale of administering something like that was within itself a challenge. But then having an
instrument, it took a while to build it. That work, in earnest, began in 2014. That’s when we started thinking through building the instrument.
Should we do it? Should we hire a third party? It has been a labor of love for some folk and a flat-out labor of whatever expletive you want to
use. But we got there. A shout-out to our folks at Academic Planning for Institutional Research that did the heavy lifting and analyzing the data
and cleaning it up and getting it to a consumable form that the committee members could wrap their heads around what to do and what to
suggest. I won’t say too much about that because we’re going to have a roll-out of it. But that process has been a very intense and thorough
process. And it wasn’t without complications.”
UW-Madison plans to periodically administer campus climate surveys, but the instrument might be evolved to a larger picture view.
“I think the next step is to see what our peers are doing,” Sims said. “Can we have a common instrument that is used throughout the Big 10?
That was one of the key things as we went through this. And other Big 10 schools were trying a similar thing to do a survey that reached all
students, not just undergrads. But for us, it was key that we targeted professional students, graduate students, non-traditional students. If
student was a part of who you were with this university, you had an opportunity to take that survey. We met our target goal of 20 percent
response rate. Over 8,000 students took the survey, so we feel pretty good about what the survey says.”
Another big event is the annual Diversity Forum being held November 7-8 at Union South’s Varsity Hall.
“The first day, we’ll have Walter Echo Hawk, an amazing civil rights attorney focusing on tribal land issues, agreements, water-rights, and
other tribal issues as the keynote speaker,” Sims said. “In general, what the first day has been is a way to update what the institution is doing
with respect to our diversity and inclusion efforts. It grew out of Plan 2008. Each year, it was a way of reporting back to the campus
community. What my predecessor and I have done is we still keep that piece, but we also try to use it as a way to build capacity. What are the
key issues that people are wanting to talk about that don’t have that space to have that conversation? We try to give that space to have that
conversation on relevant issues that are impacting our community.”
The rest of Day One will feature breakout sessions on a number of topics like immigration, an update from the Campus Climate Survey Task
Force, multiracial identities and intersectionality, allyship, bias around religion: the diversity of the American Muslim, cultural and ethnic
consideration of financial security issues amongst others.
Day Two is going to have a more intense, but more limited focus approach that will focus on mental health issues.
“Our keynote for the second day is Dr. Sarah Van Orman who used to be the head of University Health Services here,” Sims said. “She is now
at the University of Southern California, I believe. Our kick-off is a student panel that she is facilitating, so that we hear directly from students
who help us frame the conversation. What do we need? What’s different? What are we not getting as the ‘adults’ who are there to support
students? What does the support look like? Is it meeting the need or what could we do differently?’It’s really a way to have a different
conversation as opposed to ‘I have all the answers. This is what you should do.’ There are some pieces that are sort of, ‘Here are some
promising practices that you can pay attention to.’ But it is really a space to learn. So we’re taking a different approach. The second day is for
individuals who serve students. The first day is come one, come all. The second day is going to be limited to 200 participants and about 130
spots are already taken.”
There is a third day planned for the Diversity Forum, one that will be tailored to the needs and interests of second and third shift workers.
“We will always have that as a part of what the Diversity Forum is about because our second and third shift employees are here too,” Sims
said. “And if you look at the different graphic of that population, proportionately, most of our ‘diverse’ employees work second and third shift.
So I am trying to show them some love too as the son of a woman who worked third shift for over 27 years. I know what that is like. We can’t
they have an experience as well, so anything we can do to address their concerns and build capacity at that level is a good thing for us. That is
going to happen December 4th. We had to change it to a later date because we are middle on open enrollment. And because our colleagues at
cultural linguistic services, CLS, are swamped right about now dealing with open enrollment for health insurance, we felt it was more prudent
to wait until we could use their resources and collaboration to make sure that things could be translated into many languages for these
Next issue: Campus issues
For more information on attending the 2017 Diversity Forum, go to diversity.wisc.edu and sign up.