Don Sawyer steps into a new role

The position for associate VP of equity and inclusion is evolving and Sawyer is part of the journey

By on September 17, 2019

Don Sawyer is now the vice president for equity and inclusion – a new role for him and the Quinnipiac community.

Sawyer’s promotion from his previous role as associate vice president of academic affairs and chief diversity officer, announced by President Judy Olian in an email, comes in the wake of the Princeton Review’s new college ranking of Colleges with Little Race/Class Interaction. Quinnipiac was voted No. 1 in this category and Quinnipiac administration is looking hard at how to change this from a societal standpoint.

“When we talk about diversifying a community, bringing people here doesn’t necessarily mean that there are going to be connections that are made across differences,” Sawyer said. “When we talk about diversity, we talk about increasing the number of different identities that you have on campus. But by just increasing the numbers that you have on campus doesn’t mean that there is going to be any interaction.”

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Sawyer’s new responsibilities, outlined in Olian’s email, include engaging the community in critical conversations, creating training curriculums for faculty, staff and students, deepening relationships with local high-school communities and starting an action team that responds when difficult situations arise.

Sawyer said this promotion is just an extension of his last position with an increase in diversity responsibilities.

“This role is to ensure that one, diversity and inclusion is not seen as any one office,” Sawyer said. “And, also, helping to expand what inclusive excellence means across all three campuses.”

In a previous article on the Quinnipiac’s official website about Sawyer being promoted to his previous role as chief diversity officer in April 2018, Mark Thompson, executive vice president and interim provost, reflected on Sawyer’s experience and his commitment to students.

“He knows Quinnipiac well and has forged strong relationships with students, faculty, administrators and staff across our three campuses,” Thompson said. “During his time here, he has worked with multiple groups to find solutions to complicated issues and strived to create an environment that leads to our recruiting, retaining and graduating civically engaged students.”

Esau Greene, a junior political science and sociology double major and vice president for student experience, has worked with Sawyer on a number of initiatives.

“Last year, we finished work on this initiative called Cultural Education, Cultural EDU,” Greene said. “Essentially, it was a mirror off of Alcohol EDU and Sexual Assault EDU, teaching incoming freshman and possibly juniors and seniors about cultural education and diversity inclusion.”

Sawyer has been teaching for the last 20 years, according to Olian’s email. Before he joined Quinnipiac’s faculty in 2012, he taught at Syracuse University, where he got his PhD in sociology. He is now a tenured professor in Quinnipiac’s sociology, criminal justice and anthropology departments.

He has initiated a number of programs, both in the Quinnipiac and New Haven community. One of these programs is called the #HipHopProject that he started at the Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven.

“The initiative utilizes the hip-hop music genre as a means to combat both disciplinary issues and the drop-out rate among at-risk students,” according to QU.edu. “Under Professor Sawyer’s guidance, students also learn to make hip-hop, rap and poetry their mediums for expressing their hardships, struggles, hopes and aspirations.”

This program has expanded into Sawyer’s Quinnipiac model, like his Sociology of Hip-Hop class.

Greene said Sawyer’s initiatives and work on campus have impacted the discussions held around campus.

“I think I’ve seen him open up a lot of doors for students of color, bridged a lot of gaps in understanding for students of majority students on campus and minority students,” Greene said. “He does a great job bringing people to the table, giving a place for understanding, a place for voices to be heard, topics to be talked about.”

Sawyer said that he believes it is the role of the Quinnipiac community to create spaces where these critical conversations and dialogue can take place.

“We see that there is a lack of dialogue across these differences but we can’t assume that they are going to happen on their own,” Sawyer said. “What is our role in providing these spaces to have this dialogue? It’s not just about dialogue, it’s about perspective taking, it’s about that interaction that we have, it’s about that expanded worldview that will result from these intentional dialogues.”

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