A yearlong process to find a campus champion for inclusion and diversity initiatives at Western Carolina University has reached a successful close with the appointment of Ricardo Nazario-Colon, currently the director of student activities, inclusion and leadership at Morehead State University.
Nazario-Colon’s appointment as director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Programs at WCU is effect June 1, said Provost Alison Morrison-Shetlar. His hiring concludes a nationwide search for the university’s first chief diversity officer conducted by a campus committee chaired by Shea Browning, associate general counsel.
“I had 10 months of meetings with faculty, staff and students across the campus asking for their input on the characteristics they would like to see in the person who would fill this important position,” Morrison-Shetlar said.
“They told me that the university needed someone who could successfully and diplomatically champion diversity; who views diversity as more than skin color but also in terms of language, disability, sexual preference and other personal attributes; someone with the skills to educate and train; and someone who can coordinate existing efforts but also has experience generating new initiatives,” she said. “I am pleased to report that’s exactly what we have found in Ricardo Nazario-Colon.”
The appointment fulfills initiatives in the university’s “2020 Vision” strategic plan calling for increasing the diversity of the student body to serve the needs of the changing demographics of the region and state, and improving the diversity among faculty and staff.
Chancellor David O. Belcher announced in his August 2014 opening assembly the launching of an “an enhanced, in-it-for-the-long-haul commitment to diversity” that would include the budget-neutral creation of a position to lead diversity efforts on campus.
The position at WCU, which represents a restructuring of an equal opportunity and diversity programs directorship previously held by Henry Wong, is similar to others across the University of North Carolina system, where titles range from chief diversity officer to director of institutional equity and diversity.
Nazario-Colon has served as director of student activities, inclusion and leadership at Morehead State since August 2011. In that role, he has been responsible for the university’s units for student activities, Greek life, multiculturalism and inclusion, organizational development, student government, campuswide programming, disability services and student leadership.
Nazario-Colon said the position at WCU represents a rare opportunity to be involved at the beginning stages of the university’s increased emphasis on diversity, which he characterized as “a fundamental building block of higher education institutions.”
“This position represents a major leap for the institution,” he said. “By establishing a position that will shape the work of diversity, Western Carolina University recognizes how vital diversity continues to be to the educational endeavor.”
The appointment of Nazario-Colon comes during a period of heightened awareness and increased conversation about issues of race and diversity across the nation, in North Carolina and on campus.
“Given the national climate, it is an important step to assist all of our community members in navigating not only this institution but also the communities for which we are preparing our students to join. Diversity at Western Carolina University cannot be locally based. We have to understand that our students, faculty and staff inhabit different communities,” he said.
“We know that the greatest opportunity for our university in leveraging diversity is that it influences the strength, productivity and intellectual personality of the institution and its members,” Nazario-Colon said. “Our challenges are known to us. We know there are people who resist diversity and the changes that it brings, but they are not the majority. We extend ourselves to these individuals and offer the opportunity to learn, to grow, to embark on conversations about ideas that may seem strange or even fearful. The goal is to empower, to educate and to help maximize the potential of the individuals.”
While at Morehead State, Nazario-Colon also served as the institution’s director of the University Center and conference services from July 2012 until November 2014. He was director of the Office of Diversity Programs at Western Kentucky University from July 2007 until August 2011, and he has held several related positions at the University of Kentucky, including executive director of the Multicultural Affairs Division, co-chair of the President’s Commission on Diversity, multicultural programs director and director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Cultural Center.
Nazario-Colon served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1984 until 1992. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Latin American studies and Spanish literature from the University of Kentucky in 1992 and his master’s of science for teachers degree in secondary education with an emphasis in Spanish from Pace University in 1996. He is working on his doctorate in education at Kentucky.