Take Five

Five questions with Mary Wardell, associate vice provost for diversity and community engagement.

Take Five

Your position is fairly new. What are your chief responsibilities?

I have the fortunate opportunity to be the university’s first leader in diversity and community engagement. With that I will coordinate campus diversity initiatives and develop a vision that places diversity engagement at the center of institutional functioning at USF. My core focus will be to: 1) enhance college access and success for diverse students; 2) build campus capacity with university employees to enhance overall diversity efforts and experiences that promote organizational learning; and 3) facilitate campus outreach, communication, and engagement with diverse San Francisco communities.

Why is this important to USF?

USF has been successful with its strong diversity profile of race/ethnicity and gender composition among students, faculty, and staff and perhaps can easily say to itself, ‘Mission accomplished!’ It is true that a diverse institution must have the presence of compositional diversity. Yet, we still have an opportunity to grow in numbers among other diverse community members and also become engaged as a learning organization that seeks intercultural and intergroup interactions that result in deeper understanding of self and others.

What do you think are the greatest challenges you’ll face?

I think it’s important to examine the experiences of people in our community and understand there may be privileges embedded in our existing institutional structures. You do this to raise awareness about what we are doing, how we are doing it, and the impact made through our policies and perhaps long-held practices. Raising awareness to issues that lead to change and campus growth can sometimes be a challenge. But the self-examination is worth it.

How will you measure success?

Because of our Jesuit tradition there is a deep connection between mission and diversity work at USF. My intention is to always connect and link diversity to institutional mission, educational excellence, and organizational learning to improve institutional culture and practices. I will need help with the comprehensive diversity work that’s ahead of me and plan to establish a team representing a cross-section of individuals for implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of efforts that would include a review of institutional data on diversity and climate.

What in your background has prepared you for this role?

Everything in my life has prepared me for this role. My parents grew up under the Jim Crow laws of the south and attended segregated schools all their lives. They migrated to California in the ’50s for education and employment opportunity. They had five daughters (I was number four), and I am the first to complete college in my family. Becoming a university dean and instructor is a significant testament to their commitment to provide us a better chance in life. My personal story is a life of opportunity. I am attempting to pass opportunity forward.