Carmen Suarez, University of Idaho Chief Diversity Officer and Associate Vice Provost for Student Affairs, said after receiving her Ph.D. she had hoped to have a career in higher education where she could affect the policies and practices that involved diversity.
The University of Idaho provided that opportunity.
“I was looking around the country (for a career) because I wanted to be a part in higher education of an administration where I could be at that table with the vice presidents and the president and help affect policy and practices as it involves this bigger picture of diversity,” Suarez said.
Suarez, an Illinois native, completed her undergraduate, master’s and doctorate degree at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. She received her first two degrees in medieval history and her doctorate in higher education administration.
Suarez has been at UI since June 2009. She was officially named Chief Diversity Officer when several offices were combined in March this year.
As Chief Diversity Officer, Suarez provides administrative oversight to the student service programs that are the Women’s Center, Office of Multicultural Affairs, LGBTQA Office, the College Assistance Migrant Program and the Native American Student Center.
“Each of those offices are focused on the affinity groups that they serve to help them have a home away from home,” Suarez said. “A place to go to because it’s hard to look different and feel different and be different than the majority students.”
Suarez said the second part of her job is to reach out to the majority students because everyone should understand many viewpoints and groups as well as have that cultural competence.
Suarez is also the coordinator for Title IX, the Americans with Disabilities Act and Affirmative Action Equal Employment on campus.
“Difference, especially in a higher education environment, sparks the creativity,” Suarez said.
Suarez said she realized the importance of diversity as child in elementary school.
“I remember the first time I got called a spic I was in grade school. At the time I didn’t know what it meant but I knew that it couldn’t be very nice,” Suarez said. “You don’t wake up one day going, ‘I’m gonna do affirmative action or I’m gonna do Chief Diversity Officer.'”
Suarez said years later this event in her life became a part of her story and how she came to be where she is today.
Suarez said she also believes her family background put her on the path she is now–with a father from Mexico and an American mother she was able to see different perspectives.
“I’m very, very passionate so I’ve often said that this isn’t just a vocation, it’s an avocation,” Suarez said. “This to me is advocacy about inclusion, about accessibility, about that there are so many voices we need at the table, that it is about understanding the remarkable wealth of difference, that it isn’t a bad thing.”
Iris Alatorre can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org