Dear members of the community,
In May 2012, I happily announced that Dr. Sylvia C. Spears would be joining Emerson as the inaugural Vice President for Diversity & Inclusion, with the broad purview of advancing diversity and inclusion across the College. Now, nine years later, I bear the bittersweet news that Dr. Spears will be resigning from her position as Vice President for Equity & Social Justice to accept a leadership position of Vice President for Administration & Innovation and Distinguished Professor of Educational Equity and Social Justice at College Unbound in Providence, Rhode Island, effective August 1.
Dr. Spears’s extraordinary leadership has profoundly transformed the College in ways that will endure. She launched the Inclusive Excellence Initiative and the corresponding Inclusive Excellence Action Planning Process. She oversaw the development of Emerson360, the College’s first comprehensive climate survey and the Identity-Based Harm Program, formerly known as the Bias Response Program. Of course, she collaborated with me in establishing the Elma Lewis Center for Civic Engagement and Research.
Her work on institutional committees that deepen our accountability to those impacted by power-based violence is evidenced in her role as the chair of the Sexual Assault Task Force and as the administrative liaison to the Margolis Healy external review team, whose report informed a revised Sexual Misconduct Policy, the establishment of the Healing & Advocacy Collective (formerly known as Violence, Prevention, & Response) and Access, Equity & Title IX (formerly known as Title IX Access & Equity). Most recently this work led to the creation of the College’s Power-based Interpersonal Violence (PBIV) Policy.
Dr. Spears’s passion for learning and her insistence that social justice be present in our teaching and learning has broadly benefited our commonwealth of learning. She has taught a course on Peace & Social Justice and created the Inclusive Excellence Faculty Fellows Program, in which more than 150 faculty have participated. She also worked with Provost Michaele Whelan to strengthen our efforts to diversify our faculty.
While we will undoubtedly feel a great loss at Emerson, Dr. Spears, in her words, is being called to her purpose: “This is an opportunity–a calling–to advance the transformation of education in support of those who have been most disenfranchised. College Unbound, led by Dennis Littky, is a degree completion college centered on equity and community engagement. President Littky describes College Unbound as a movement that will change who gets degrees in the United States and how they get them.” As College Unbound prepares to establish campuses in several locations around the country, Dr. Spears will provide invaluable leadership to College Unbound as it pursues this important mission.
In the coming weeks, Dr. Spears and her team will share additional information on her transition. In addition, the College will provide information regarding how it will continue its commitment to equity and inclusion, as well as plans for a farewell celebration to honor Dr. Spears’s time in our community later this summer.
Sylvia has been my treasured friend, colleague and confidante since her arrival at Emerson. While she will be sorely missed, we take comfort in knowing that she is taking on a new challenge that aligns with her interests, abilities and commitment to equity and social justice.