UW Diversity and Equity Division Welcomes
Taking on the Struggle for Diversity
|Dr. Sherri Charleston (l-r), Tracy Williams and Dr.
Cheryl Gittens are new additions to Vice-
Provost Patrick Sims’ leadership team in the UW
Division of Diversity, Equity and Educational
essential amount of detail, attention to understanding the needs of undergraduate students and what their experiences should be to be
successful in college and recognizing what they need to getting access to college in the first place. I’ve had years of experience in financial
aid, in academic advising, in counseling, in student engagement and in student recruitment. I could really name a whole gamut. I’ve done the
whole gamut of student development portfolio work at the college level. And I’ve also done the community outreach to understand how to
connect with local communities, local organizations and corporations to ensure that our students are getting what they need inside and outside
of the classroom to be successful. This position also takes a lot of understanding of federal regulations and writing grants. I’ve done extensive
work in that area, especially writing federal grants for the programs.”
Charleston’s background has also placed her in a position to b e effective in her post.
“What is interesting is that my background sort of lines up with those three areas in a way that I don’t think anyone plans for, but is extremely
useful in this position,” Charleston said. “So I have this background. We’ll begin with the student services piece. As I mentioned before, I was
directing a pre-law advising center and pre-health advising. I had some experience before that with advising students of color through the
graduation process. I saw students of color primarily through the graduate school admissions process in a variety of different capacities and
also through teaching, you get the experience of actually learning how to work with and advise students. What is really interesting for me is
that this is sort of a homecoming. I started my advising work and advising portfolio with the Posse Program. I actually taught for the PEOPLE
Program too. But I started with the Posse Program and that is where I actually cut my teeth on formal advising.”
Gittens looks at the work before her as an opportunity and not as a challenge. Diversity and equity work is almost a black hole of need that can
swallow one up in the endless demands that it can place on people. Gittens is geared for the long term.
“I can bring a fresh eye to our work and try to establish some sense of work/life balance, a little bit of poise in the work that we do,” Gittens
said. “I understand that when we give of ourselves, that’s when we take care of ourselves also. And we need to model what we want our
students to do also. I can bring that kind of balance. The other thing that I bring to the university, which I am actually excited to do. Since I’ve
worked in this field for a while, I do see the opportunity to bring a fresh set of eyes to the division and to help us think about the way we can
conduct business in a different way, to bring new ideas to apply to different benchmarks or services or initiatives that have been successful in
other places that I have worked that we might bring here to the university. And I also envision an opportunity to develop the next generation of
leaders in higher education. I’m excited about that opportunity. I think it’s an opportunity to shine a light on our innovative programs.”
Williams believes that challenges need to be met with innovation.
“In terms of challenges I will face, it is just that innovation is not easy,” Williams confided. “Diversity is challenging work. I think for those of
us who are in it understand that you do need to be strategic. It is something that takes a lot of skill. And knowing that we are going to be
constantly challenged in this work and the environment nationally and locally, we just have to be aware that we are always going to have
challenges. That is just inherent in the work. I anticipate it and believe that we have what it takes to move forward.”
Three to four of Charleston’s units will be undergoing some level of restructuring. And she looks at it not as an opportunity for her to have an
impact as much as it’s an opportunity for the staff to have an impact.
“It’s really more about opportunities for growth, opportunities for advancement and opportunities for foundation building,” Charleston said. “And
that is really exciting because that means we can take this moment to really get a grasp on how we can build sustainable programs that can
give us longevity well into the future. That is a tall order. But it is also incredibly exciting because we are really being allowed to retool those
programs in a way that will allow them to be successful going forward. Part of it is — and I give credit working with OUA, the Office of
Undergraduate Advising —having a model for how you really lead from within. I’ve been very fortunate in that I have three units that have
incredible strength and know-how. And so really, it’s about helping to funnel the brilliant ideas that are already percolating in how we can
transition the programs forward. I don’t know that it is necessarily me. I’m sort of leaving the light on to allow ideas to flourish and come to
When asked what benchmark she will be using for success, to know if she is having an impact, Williams emphasized that the team succeeds
and not the individual.
“The partnerships that we do have in place will grow exponentially,” Williams said. “As I mentioned, we have established a really key
relationship with American Family. I believe that partnership will become ingrained so that when you see the American Family logo, you
usually see athletics. And we’re actually forging a partnership with athletics now. So I think there will be more seamless relationships. When
we bring this to alumni, they will all feel a part of what we are doing and engaged. One of our key events that we partner on is homecoming.
Our numbers continue to grow. But we are also cultivating a core group of alumni who can help us bring other alumni back to feel welcome, to
feel that they trust, that they feel we are sincere in wanting them involved and wanting to share resources with them. I believe that I will be
able to look back and see that has actually occurred and that not only our efforts are making an impact, but we are also empowering others to
make the impact that we desire to see.”
For Gittens, success means that the students of color and other underrepresented students are having a full collegiate experience on the UW-
“What success look like for this campus is a welcoming environment for students of color or students from diverse backgrounds,” Gittens
emphasized. “What success looks like is our university truly embraces the diversity initiative we chose to support last year and that we are
implementing it throughout everything that we do. Success looks like if we the students who are enrolled in our pre-college programs are
successfully gaining access and admission to the University of Wisconsin-Madison or other UW schools. But I truly want to see them here. And
success looks like the students who are enrolled at UW-Madison are engaged in our division programs are supported inside the classroom
and out, have opportunities to advance academically through honors programs and other excellence and enrichment programs, are engaged in
internships, and are engaged in mentoring. I would love to see the students engaged in general, are really engaged in this university and really
feel like this university represents who they are and what they do here will live on and translate into what they do in the world.”
Charleston feels that what constitutes success will evolve over time.
“Part of the success strategy is being able to put forth a sustainable model for student success that is also inclusive of diversity and the value
and strength that diversity brings to this campus very broadly construed,” Charleston said. “And so that means that our programs are
emblematic of the ways in which diversity becomes a part of the entire framework of student success. When we talk about time to degree,
graduation requirements, and employment outcome afterwards, diversity is part and parcel of all of those pieces of discussion in terms of
student success. And then when we think about the bigger piece of how we change climate, that also goes back to making sure that all
students who are on this campus feel welcome. For me, those undergird the things that Tracy was talking about. If you create a climate for
students to feel like they can succeed, given the space and the tools to succeed and then hopefully give them the tools to be able to succeed in
the way that they deem the best path for themselves once they get outside the university, that then translates back into alumni giving. That’s
what we want. We want our students to be connected to this university. And finally, there is a faculty and staff piece that is essential to student
success. If our faculty and staff are supported, if the climate in which they operate is one which is inclusive and supports the work that we are
trying to do, then it creates a better learning outcome for our students in general.”
In order to have the full UW-Madison experience, it is important for students to utilize the comfort of the DDEEA programs they are in to venture
forth across campus.
“The work that we are doing internally in this unit is ideally to embrace the notion that diversity is of benefit to us all,” Gittens said. “So to
situate ourselves in silos alone does not necessarily support that notion. It is our challenge and our work to build that level of diversity by
strengthening the students whom we are working with so they are confident and competent in why they are here and what they want to do here
and what they want to do in the world.”
But in order to do that, there needs to be a network of support to help connect students to all parts of campus.
“If we want our students to go across campus and have experiences across campus, what that means for us is being really strategic about the
partnerships that we are creating with offices across campus in a way that creates pathways for students to get there,” Charleston
emphasized. “What we find is that students go places because they are recommended to other advisors. This is just sort of a basic advising
strategy. If I tell you, ‘You need to go and talk to Caroline over in pre-law because Caroline can take care of you,’ that gives credibility,
especially when students don’t know what they are going to get across campus. That means it is our job to leave the light on. It’s our job to
create pathways for students to make inroads across campus into these other spaces.”
Williams put their charge succinctly.
“Our goal here is to lead and to be leaders in this space,” Williams emphasized. “And I believe that we are equipped to do that. We’re here to
dispel myths and we’re here to truly do the work. And I believe that as a team, we’ll be able to do that.”
The goal is to have the university live up to its ideals.
Part 2 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling
During 2017, the UW-Madison Division of Diversity, Equity and Educational Achievement
has gone through some restructuring as staff has retired and the financial landscape has
shifted. And so during the past few months, Vice-Provost Patrick Sims has brought on Dr.
Cheryl Gittens and Dr. Sherri Charleston who have joined Dr. Gloria Hawkins as interim
assistant vice-provosts responsible for two pipeline programs each and other
administrative responsibilities within the division. And Tracy Williams joined the staff as
the interim senior director of external relationships, partnerships and development.
For Gittens, it’s almost like her responsibilities as interim assistant vice-provost were
tailor-made for the culmination of her life-time experiences and education.
“This position gives me the opportunity to continue to support students who look like me,
who come from backgrounds similar to mine and are participating in programs that I
formerly participated in or directed,” Gittens said. “Most of these programs require an