A look into the world of Dr. G. Christopher Hunt
The inaugural associate provost for Community, Equity, and Diversity’s first 100 days in office
It has been nearly 100 days since Chris Hunt, Ed.D., assumed his role as the University of New England’s inaugural associate provost for Community, Equity, and Diversity, a role designed to consolidate and help facilitate the University’s efforts to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) across its campuses.
In those more-or-less 100 days, Hunt — who comes to UNE from his most recent positions as dean of Equity and Inclusion, interim chief diversity officer, and dean of students and assistant vice president at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania — has been on a whirlwind tour, meeting faculty, professional staff, and students and learning how to best integrate DEI principles into both their work and the University’s interprofessional curriculum.
In so doing, he has begun to lay the foundation upon which a more “welcoming, inclusive, and vibrant community” can be built — a goal outlined in Priority Four (P4) of the University’s “Our World, Our Future” Strategic Plan, adopted in 2018. The P4 committee, formally the University Committee on Community, Equity, and Diversity (CED), spearheaded the search for Hunt’s position and pioneered implementation of the Campus Climate Survey in partnership with Rankin & Associates.
Moving forward, Hunt and the committee will analyze the data from that survey, with the goal of drafting a strategic plan specifically designed to address diversity, equity, and inclusion.
“Part of my work in the past three months has been to just introduce myself so that people know there is someone in this important role. However, it’s not my personal desire to be so forward-facing,” Hunt says.
What Hunt says should be at the forefront, however, is the work completed and projects undertaken to make UNE a more inclusive, equitable institution of higher learning.
As a member of the President’s Cabinet and co-chair of the P4 committee, Hunt’s role, often known as “chief diversity officer” at other institutions, is to provide leadership and coordination around DEI initiatives. At the highest level, says Hunt, his job is to ensure that diversity, equity, and inclusion are considered in every institutional decision, and that includes working directly with President James D. Herbert, Ph.D., and Provost Joshua W. Hamilton, Ph.D., senior vice president for Academic Affairs, to do so.
Among those high-level decisions is how best to engage students in conversations around DEI through academic programming — namely, the curriculum and research opportunities within the University’s five colleges and myriad academic programs.
“It is incumbent upon all of us to make sure the curriculum is more reflective of society. That engages students in so much as they would be in class learning about more inclusive events, people, systems, and things like that,” Hunt declares. “I had a mentor who once said, ‘If diversity, equity, and inclusion aren’t built into the research programs and curriculum of a college or university, then that college or university is saying diversity, equity, and inclusion don’t matter.’”
Then, there are the more direct and immediate ways of reinforcing the importance of DEI, which, among other many tasks, Hunt calls the “imperatives” of his work: co-coordinating faculty development and training opportunities for professional staff; collaborating with Admissions in addressing retention challenges; and crystalizing a deliberate strategy for incorporating DEI practices into faculty and staff recruitment.
Hunt’s hiring, accelerated even amid the coronavirus pandemic, came at a tumultuous time, as national conversations around racial injustice and police brutality against people of color were once again thrust into the spotlight this past summer. But it also came at the right time for UNE: students have started their own important conversations around systemic racism, and they have mobilized their peers to act.
In June, the UNE College of Osteopathic Medicine (COM) Equity Diversity Advancement Committee held a “die-in” demonstration on the Biddeford Campus in protest of racial inequality in health care, which saw participation from more than 70 members of the UNE community, including students from both UNE COM and the College of Dental Medicine. And, in September, two demonstrations in support of the Black Lives Matter movement were organized by players on the Nor’easters football team, the latter of which — a march from the turf of the Blue Storm Stadium to the heart of the University’s main campus — drew over 500 student-athletes, coaches, faculty, and professional staff in protest of social and racial injustice.
Hunt is happy to report the level of enthusiasm for DEI work at UNE is high and that he has already developed more-focused programming to engage students and encourage them to continue their existing conversations. Based on a similar initiative from positions past, Hunt is the organizer of the new series, “Forums on Fridays,” a regular platform for members of the UNE community to gather and discuss topics that impact UNE’s campuses, the local region, and society more broadly.
The next such forum, to be held from noon to 1 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 6, will focus on the 2020 election cycle. Titled, “Our Election Recovery Group!,” the event will bring together the CED Office, Student Counseling Center, the Office of Intercultural Student Engagement, and UNE’s Political Science programs for a reflection on this complex year.
Hunt says he is unsure how students are handling the stress of the Nov. 3 election day, but he has an idea.
“I can’t pretend to know the facts around how students are feeling with regard to pressure experienced in our current political climate, but it is important to acknowledge that this is a stressful time, politically,” he says.
To help quell the stress, Hunt informs that he is working with staff across the University to make himself and others more available to students through the election process, including offering increased CED Office hours and working with campus RAs to provide support for students in whatever capacity is needed come election night and the days following.
Far beyond the election, though, Hunt stresses that the essential work around diversity, equity, and inclusion cannot be done alone, nor will it be; it will take collaboration from different players across the University — from faculty and administration to deans, department heads, and support staff; Athletics; student groups embedded within the colleges; and all those in between.
“The work needs to be decentralized, to a degree, because of the unique nature of our colleges, and I don't want to get in the way of that,” Hunt says. “I also think it's helpful to bring us together to share ideas and resources.”
Hunt speaks to the collective responsibility of the UNE community to embrace and celebrate the diversity of its members and to work toward making the University more equitable for all. And there are many different ways to be diverse other than race, socioeconomic background, or sexual orientation — “while those certainly are ways in which people can be diverse, they aren’t the only ways,” Hunt advises. “Recognizing that fact gives people fewer opportunities to say that the ‘diversity conversation’ isn’t for them.”
Empathy plays a major role in Hunt’s views.
“It’s important for folks to be introspective, to consider all the different things that make them who they are,” he says. “If we can, in our very busy daily lives, ever stop to think about ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What are my different identities?’ If we can understand that, then we can maybe more easily understand someone else and their different identities and what is important to them.”
And, while Hunt says conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion are important, they do not need to dominate every conversation; rather, they should be simply factored, normalized, and, most importantly, embedded into our everyday conversations.
“If we are going to live, learn, and work together in this community at UNE, we need to not only discuss these topics with each other but also respect each other, empathize, and put ourselves into each other’s shoes regardless of our many different backgrounds,” he declares. “I should be able to see you and respect and honor your background, and you should go and do the same for me.”
Watch Dr. Hunt discuss his role.