Model for Diversity

By Judith Kelliher | Fall 2015

Newly responsible for diversity and community engagement, Calvin Hill helps fulfill President Cooper’s vision

In its simplest form, Calvin R. Hill, PhD, sees his job as Springfield College’s first-ever vice president for inclusion and community engagement as one in which he can create a sense of belonging for everyone in the campus community—both within and beyond its borders.

It is a role rich in responsibility, and one that will help move Springfield College forward as a model for diversity and inclusion in higher education.

Hill arrived on campus in July, ready to serve as part of President Mary-Beth Cooper’s leadership team. Establishing and filling that position was part of Cooper’s vision, and creating a more inclusive and diverse community was one of her top initiatives when she arrived on campus in 2013.

To begin the process, Cooper and her leadership team established the diversity and inclusion committee—made up of students, faculty, staff, and alumni representation—which was influential in establishing the description for the post. A national search was conducted and Hill’s experience and commitment to equal access for underrepresented populations was determined to be a perfect fit for the College.

Hill has served in diversity and inclusion roles at Worcester State University, MGH Institute of Health Professions in Boston, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute. At McPherson College, Hill worked as admissions counselor with a focus on recruitment. He recalled his own experiences working with and counseling prospective students.

“Wanting to make sure students had a different and better experience than I helped me to really talk to them about what it’s like to be a student of color at a predominantly white institution. Having the ability to sell the environment and sell the campus from that standpoint was important,” Hill explains.

“We want to make sure faculty have had an opportunity to think about how they can influence and talk about issues of diversity and current events in their classroom environments.”

Hill feels he has grown and succeeds because of his opportunities to work in different positions through which he engaged with people who were different from him.

“I don’t know if there’s a career tract for a diversity officer, but I think it’s something you go into because of your lived experience and your passion,” he says.
In defining diversity, Hill says it is broader than just issues of race.
“It’s about spirituality. It’s about our gender backgrounds, our sexual orientation, our socio-economic background, and all of the differences that we bring to the table,” Hill says.

Hill wants to be viewed as a leader who brings people together to create an environment in which, no matter how they view themselves, they are going to feel comfortable.
Springfield College Director of Spiritual Life David McMahon, co-chair of the diversity and inclusion committee, calls Hill’s hiring a “bold, new direction” for the College in rethinking the relationships within the internal community, and how students, faculty, and staff relate to the external community.

“Dr. Hill brings experience and a fresh perspective, which is something we vitally need at this time,” he says. “He will also be our chief advocate in the community, both in terms of governmental relations and more at the grassroots level with many of the smaller community organizations.”
Just as important, Hill needs to be a critic “who will bring us back to our core values,” McMahon says.
“As part of our mission, we have to be a safe and inclusive space for a variety of perspectives that don’t necessarily always agree,” McMahon says. “Ultimately, we want to create a collegial environment in which difficult conversations c
an happen.”
For Hill, creating a sense of belonging means finding ways to become better at interacting with one another and creating opportunities for cross-cultural dialogues and experiences.
“When you don’t see people who look like you or sound like you or who have the same outfits on, in reference to cultural garb, you start to question if you belong there,” Hill explains.

He believes his passion for making a difference is one of the greatest qualities he brings to the job. Making people feel at ease—especially through the use of humor—comes naturally to him, he says, adding that humor is a valuable asset in his new role. He wants people to feel like he is someone to whom they can feel comfortable talking. He considers himself a good listener.
“When you’re in a diversity and inclusion role, you need someone who will listen to your perspective. As part of my academic background, I learned how to listen to people,” says Hill. “I want to let people know this is an office, regardless of our differences, where you’re going to feel comfortable coming here.”
As part of his job, Hill envisions creating an environment based on “inclusive excellence,” which includes supporting the recruitment and retention of a diverse student population and developing admissions and recruitment strategies that bring in a more diverse faculty and staff.

“The more that students can identify with people they can see that look like them and sound like them or have similar spiritual or economic backgrounds, the more they are going to feel included in the campus community,” Hill says.

“I don’t know if there’s a career tract for a diversity officer, but I think it’s something you go into because of your lived experience and your passion.”

The belief systems of new hires is also important, he notes.

“We want to make sure as we bring in new employees, that they have a firm understanding that diversity is a key requirement for us in terms of how they think,” Hill says. “We want to bring them in because of their academic background, but we also want to make sure that they’re going to be creating an environment where students think critically about issues of diversity and inclusion.”
As he settles into his new role, there are a number of other issues Hill expects to address, including college affordability for everyone, an issue that is not going away anytime soon, he says. On his agenda are plans to meet with alumni and other donors to try and build scholarship dollars so that diverse individuals can attend Springfield College and find a welcoming place.
“We know it’s hard to separate race, ethnicity, and class. One of the big issues I am going to want to have a conversation about is making sure that we are affordable and that we have resources available to make the institution affordable for diverse communities,” he says.
Another of his key priorities is to review the information gleaned from a recent study that looked at the perceptions of Springfield College students about the institutional climate around issues of diversity and inclusion on campus. He plans to meet with representatives involved in collecting the survey data, including members of the diversity and inclusion committee, to identify areas of concern and make adjustments necessary to ensure all students feel they are being treated fairly and equally.

The survey was administered to all undergraduate and graduate students in March 2015 to learn, in part, which groups on campus feel marginalized. Members of the diversity and inclusion committee will review the data once it is broken out into reports and ultimately share the findings with the College community, McMahon says.
“This will be a great tool, not only for the committee, but, for Hill moving forward in understanding our students’ perceptions, where they see our strengths, and identifying where we have room to grow,” McMahon says.
Other areas where Hill will focus his efforts include curriculum and pedagogy. To that end, Hill plans to work with Jean A. Wyld, PhD, provost and vice president for academic affairs, to discuss issues of faculty engagement and curriculum.
“We want to make sure faculty have had an opportunity to think about how they can influence and talk about issues of diversity and current events in their classroom environments,” Hill says. “Not only will our majority students have access to information that they may not have thought about previously, but our minority students will see themselves in the literature or topics they may be interested in and know those will be brought up in a classroom environment as well.”
Hill views commitment to diversity and inclusion as an important value for the campus community, a commitment that will ultimately lead to a more successful institution as a whole. That recognition would come from students, faculty, and staff seeing that there is value in having cross-cultural conversations and being able to interact with people different from themselves.
“They can take that with them and go into a world of work and they’re not going to be shocked when they report to someone who has a different sexual orientation or who has a different spiritual tradition,” Hill says. “That’s, ultimately, my goal.”
The campus isn’t the only place where Hill hopes to make an impact regarding issues of diversity and inclusion. Part of his responsibilities include monitoring, documenting, and facilitating the College’s integrated governmental and community relations, and serving as a liaison to local, state, and federal agencies.

His community engagement responsibility will include educating the local community on how the College can be a resource for local nonprofits and other organizations and its citizens.

“Springfield is an extremely diverse environment, and it’s going to be a great learning lab for our faculty, staff, and students. We also want to make sure those learning labs and those opportunities are really working together,” he says.
Even with his higher education experience, Hill’s own education never stops.
“I learn every year from the students I interact with because they bring different aspects of diversity and inclusion to the table,” he says. “I want people to know I don’t have all the answers. Through learning and interacting with people I will strive to get to a point where we are working together to create a campus that is going to make everyone happy and able to succeed.”
Hill earned a Doctor of Philosophy in political science from Howard University, a Master of Science in student personnel administration from Emporia State University, and a Bachelor of Arts in history and political science from Bethany College. Prior to coming to Springfield College, Hill served as the diversity and inclusion officer at the University of St. Thomas, and as assistant to the president and director of the office of diversity, inclusion and equal opportunity at Worcester State University.
He lives in Worcester with his wife, Susan Scully-Hill, associate professor of human services and rehabilitation studies at Assumption College, and their two children, Aleksander Scully-Hill, 20, and Chiara Scully-Hill, 14.
With the serious nature of his job, Hill believes it’s important that the community gets to know his approachable and fun sides, too, and he looks forward to meeting students, faculty, and staff at sporting and other events on the campus.

“When I was a student, I didn’t feel like I had that person on my campus who was trying to make the environment open and engaged. So, I really want to make sure our students have a sense that they have a champion,” Hill says.
“And your champion isn’t someone who’s in an ivory tower somewhere who doesn’t know what you’re dealing with. It’s someone who’s been where you are, and someone who wants to hear from you.”