Purdue Fort Wayne’s first Chief Diversity Officer seeks 'true equity'

After a long process and national search that yielded 100 potential candidates, Purdue University Fort Wayne selected Dr. MarTeze D. Hammonds, Ed.D., as its first chief diversity officer. He is moving from Dallas to Fort Wayne. Purdue University Fort Wayne selected Dr. MarTeze D. Hammonds, Ed.D., as its first chief diversity officer. He is moving from Dallas to Fort Wayne.

The appointment is significant in that it is a cabinet-level position, reporting directly to Chancellor Ronald L. Elsenbaumer. The idea of inclusion isn’t rare; placing an emphasis at the level is uncommon.

A Kentucky native, Hammonds is the owner and principal consultant of MDH Consulting Group in Dallas and a senior consultant for diversity and inclusion for the global headquarters of the American Cancer Society in Atlanta.

Hammonds has more than a decade of professional work experience in higher education, including serving as Associate Dean for diversity and inclusion at Arkansas Tech University and Assistant Dean of Students for retention and academic engagement at the College of Wooster. He has ties to Indiana–as he was the Assistant Director of Ball State University’s Multicultural Center.

Hammonds's official start date as CDO at Purdue Fort Wayne was Dec. 18. Fort Wayne Ink Spot spoke with him recently by Zoom call and shared this interview with Input Fort Wayne.

Q: What are your impressions of Fort Wayne? Had you been here before?

MH: I had never been to Fort Wayne, but I’ve been doing my research. And I also have a cousin who is a police officer in Fort Wayne. Just having a conversation with him, I’m really getting to understand the kind of complexities of Fort Wayne, the different quadrants, and some of the history between IPFW/PFW and the city.

The Chancellor has put a specific emphasis on trying to build relationships and partnerships with communities.

Q: You’ve held some high-profile positions at public and private schools and consulted to corporate America. In this case, you’re reporting directly to the chancellor at PFW. That seems rare in academia.

Actually, I would not have even batted an eye towards the institution if it wasn't structured in such a way. Any seasoned and skilled diversity, equity, and inclusion officer would tell you that this is the best structure for us. Often, and I've witnessed this, there are so many layers from the top, you will be amazed how much filtering goes in, and the politics in such a structure is not on the side of true equity.

Q: When we think of diversity, it’s often in binary terms of race, literally black and white, brown and white. But there’s so much more to this, from LGBTQ+ to faith to disability rights. And then there’s intersectionality, where someone is part of several communities.

MH: It very much is. That's something that I pride myself in diversity is cultural competency. And there’s a way we move toward competency.

First, you have to be aware of who you are. What do you bring to the table? Then, we have to provide folks with knowledge about others. Because it's not just about you. So how do we interact? How do we live? How do we grow? How do we act together with other folks, other cultures?

Then, we provide knowledge, and then we provide the skills. What are the skillsets needed so that we can function in this space together? And then, finally, action. We can't sit on it. What are we doing? How are we being an ally? How are we showing up for the voiceless people?

Once we get that total package together, then that's how we really move the needle on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Q: What can people expect in the coming months?

MH: There’s a lot we can do. We'll start by assessing the campus climate. I'm going to do my best to use my research to look at: What are some of the low-hanging fruit, things that we can do from Day One?

There were things that I learned during the (interview) process that I know that we could do that are going to enrich the lives of our students, our faculty, and, most definitely, our staff. I also had a robust meeting with some community leaders, and there's some disconnect that I want to make sure that we're connecting.

We can't invite people to our house, our university, which sits in this community and have blinders on to the inequities around us.

This story was originally published in Fort Wayne Ink Spot.
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