Reckoning with the history of the institutions we work within and represent — especially when there are events in an institution’s history that one cannot be proud of — is always a difficult process. For Chon Glover, Chief Diversity Officer at William & Mary, this reckoning is at the forefront of her work, and a central way in which she is progressing inclusivity and belonging on William & Mary’s campus.
GoodCourse co-founder Chris Mansfield sat down with Chon to discuss diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, how wider social change impacts Higher Education (HE), and what makes for good allyship.
I currently serve as the Chief Diversity Officer at William & Mary. I’ve been here for 26 years! I attended a predominantly White institution as an undergraduate and while I was there I really tried to do more to support students from diverse backgrounds. I was navigating college as a first-generation, low-income, African American woman.
One of my mantras is ‘to whom much is given, much is required’. I benefited from mentors, so wanted to do the same for students who came after me.
When I graduated, I was hired to do what I had been doing as a student. I knew student affairs, but I wasn’t that well acquainted with the intricacies of HE structures. Quickly, I realized it was my calling. I worked at my alma mater for 6 years, then I came to William & Mary.
Students are my joy, they’re the reason I’m here, so being given the opportunity to work more universally was appealing to me. It’s been wonderful because I wanted to do intentional work and make a tangible impact.
I work more with faculty and staff now. In 2019 I co-led the renewing of our mission and vision statement as we reviewed our strategic planning process. We created a value statement which considered what took place when we made decisions. One of the 7 principles we used was belonging. We realized a lot of people didn’t feel they had a sense of belonging at work. They were going through the motions and not feeling seen, heard, respected and valued.
The pandemic revealed many health, racial and economic disparities. We needed to give people opportunities to talk about how they were impacted by everything that was happening to us as a society, especially as issues of isolation became compounded with issues of belonging.
George Floyd’s murder and the BLM movement was a national reckoning — it triggered self-reflection for a lot of people. Many wanted to become individuals who spoke up for the voiceless. It was a good byproduct of everything that happened, but you have to make sure you’re doing it in the right way.
Allyship is developing relationships with people who are in a different group and being as empathetic as possible in that process. It’s one thing to assume we know an experience, but talking to people provides a better understanding.
George Floyd’s murder and the BLM movement was a national reckoning — it triggered self-reflection for a lot of people. Many wanted to become individuals who spoke up for the voiceless.
Allyship can be performative — we need true, authentic allyship. When I’m not in the room, there needs to be someone asking questions like: why are we doing this? How does it impact others? How do we bring everyone to the table?
Our work with the Lemon Project began a decade ago. Our students came to the institution and said, we need to investigate our past. We’re the second oldest institution in the country, in Williamsburg, Virginia.
The board acknowledged we had a history with slavery, so started the Lemon Project. It’s the name of a person who worked for the institution — we don’t his full name but we know that he had a strong relationship with William & Mary. The university conducted 10 years of research which continues today.
As a culmination of this work, we built a memorial this spring — Hearth: Memorial to the Enslaved, to honor and make visible the individuals who were enslaved by the university for 170 years.
DEI work is ‘heart’ work and hard work. On top of that, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. For these reasons, you have to be a courageous and empathetic leader.
I value my colleagues who are doing the work. I really admire Damon Smith, who is a respected researcher, practitioner and scholar in the DEI area.
I’m currently reading Trust and Inspire by Stephen M.R. Covey. It is phenomenal in the sense that it talks about leadership in a different way from the norm –- we should trust and inspire people, rather than command and control them.