Anita A. Davis, vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion
By Andrew. J. Concatelli
Anita A. Davis—Trinity’s inaugural vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion—sees her new position at the college as one without barriers, allowing her to interact with people from all parts of campus.
While working to advance Trinity’s goal of a truly inclusive community, Davis may meet with deans and faculty members to discuss inclusive hiring practices in the morning, consult on a human resources matter in the afternoon, and attend an event organized by a student group in the evening. By providing leadership and collaborating with faculty, staff, students, alumni, and the broader Hartford community, Davis aims to support all of those groups—and the diverse members within each of them—to break down barriers of their own.
“My vision is of conversations happening within, between, and among groups of people, especially since some groups have rarely had sustained conversations on topics around diversity, equity, and inclusion before,” Davis says. “If we can have this sort of dialogue happening on a regular basis, we can begin to create an environment and a community where more people are talking about really tough things in respectful and thoughtful ways. One’s unique identity shouldn’t get in the way of being able to connect with others from different backgrounds.”
Dean of Campus Life and Vice President for Student Affairs Joe DiChristina says that the new role is complex and critical. “The college is a reflection of our society and the changing demographics of our world,” he says. “Therefore, this position of vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion represents the important responsibility institutions of higher education have to educate and prepare students to live and thrive in a culturally exciting and diverse world. Dr. Davis can help our community of learners advance important elements of diversity and inclusion at both the individual and strategic level.”
Davis joined Trinity in September 2018, taking on the restructured role of former Dean of Multicultural Affairs and Senior Diversity Officer Karla Spurlock-Evans, who retired in 2018 after having led Trinity’s Office of Multicultural Affairs since 1999. Trinity President Joanne Berger-Sweeney says that Davis has begun getting to know the campus community and will use her skills to determine where to focus her efforts. “Anita seeks out knowledge and uses data and the perspectives of multiple constituencies to create institutional strategies and practices,” Berger-Sweeney says.
A member of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education, Davis holds Ph.D. and M.A. degrees in clinical/community psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a B.A. from Rhodes College. She comes to Trinity from the Associated Colleges of the South (ACS), where she served as director of diversity and inclusion for the ACS consortium of 16 colleges and universities. Her primary responsibilities were to support member institutions in their collective and individual efforts to advance diversity and inclusion goals on their campuses and in their communities.
She also was a tenured associate professor of psychology at Rhodes College in Memphis, where she was the inaugural faculty director of the African American Studies Program for five years and associate dean of academic affairs for seven years, with responsibilities including accreditation, curriculum and program assessment, faculty evaluation and mentoring, and diversity and inclusion initiatives. As a Memphis native who helped to strengthen relationships between Rhodes and her hometown, Davis brings that same passion to expanding the college’s engagement with Hartford.
Members of the Trinity search committee who met with Davis during the hiring process found her to be a careful listener, a creative thinker, and a dedicated problem solver, according to committee member Stefanie Chambers, professor of political science. “Our committee was especially impressed with her passion for working at Trinity and for contributing to the mission of the college,” Chambers says.
The goals that Davis plans to pursue align with the college’s new strategic plan, Summit, which articulates a need for enhanced resources to support an increasingly diverse community of students, faculty, and staff. Posse Scholar Esther Appiah ’21, a student on the search committee, says that having an administrator who specializes in this mission will help amplify underrepresented voices and perspectives on campus. “Diversity will always be an integral part of human existence,” Appiah says. “On Trinity’s campus, diversity is crucial to the academic success of the entire student body, but especially to minority students.” She adds that Davis made an early impression by expressing interest in attending student meetings and events. “Her willingness to be in our spaces is very important, whether it be in the cultural houses, religious life, or fraternities and sororities,” Appiah says.
Davis says that her work began with listening to diverse groups of people to learn about their concerns and goals before making her initial assessment. “What’s the state of things in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion? This information will help guide what the next step is,” she says. “Once we have a sense of where we are, thinking about where we go and how to get there becomes easier. Then we can think about success metrics and how we hold ourselves accountable while tracking our progress.”
Based on her findings, Davis may recommend that Trinity adopt any of a wide range of programs and policies. “It could mean extending some of the conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion that take place during new-student orientation to include activities throughout the year or adding additional content to the onboarding program for new faculty and staff that raises awareness about joining a diverse community and how to be considerate and engaged members of it,” Davis says. Other possibilities include asking departments and programs to share how they have identified issues of diversity and inclusion relative to their areas and steps being taken to respond to those issues. “In my mind, the biggest things are infusing interventions that get people talking about and learning from others,” she says.
The collaboration and openness necessary for these efforts are qualities found on a liberal arts campus, Davis says. “This is a place where we interrogate and think critically about everything. If we can apply that to our ways of thinking and really challenge ourselves to do that work in the area of diversity, equity, and inclusion, it opens up wonderful opportunities,” she says. “We’ve got to figure out a way to make spaces where we can trust that there’s going to be respect and genuine willingness to have deep, honest conversations and reflection.”
Davis knows that one person cannot achieve these goals alone. “How do we build the most diverse, inclusive, and equitable campus, and how does everybody share in that?” she asks. “It means challenging ourselves to remove barriers; we all have to own it if there’s really going to be true progress.”