Dr. Edward Antonio knows the road ahead of him as the college’s first chief diversity officer will be full of twists and turns, but he’s ready for it.
Antonio, who started at the college in August, acknowledges the difficulty of taking a diversity position at a predominantly white college but appreciates the college’s straightforward acknowledgement of its demographics. Now, Antonio says, it’s time to dive in and make some progress.
“Looking at the whole college, this isn’t going to be an easy task,” Antonio says.
There are many reasons to diversify a college. The main reason is the creativity, innovation and various thought processes a more diverse population can bring. A secondary reason is demographics. Antonio says that by 2040 the projected population of the United States will have shifted, and people of color and minorities will be the majority.
“As we look long term, we need to be bold and take thoughtful and informed risk as we think of diversity,” Antonio says.
While working on how to make it happen, Antonio is clear on the end goal. It’s not a number. It’s a culture shift.
“We want to transform Concordia to become a college that is renowned and celebrated for how it educates students to become responsibly engaged citizens, by fostering diversity and radical respect for the dignity, freedom and equality of all human beings,” Antonio says.
Before coming to Concordia, Antonio was an associate professor of theology and social theory at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver. He was also the associate dean of diversities and the director of the Social Justice Program. Originally from Zimbabwe, Antonio came to the United States by way of England, where he earned his bachelor’s degree; Scotland, where he earned his master’s; and back to England for his doctorate from Cambridge University. He served at Iliff for the past 20 years and wanted to find a place where he could broaden his diversity contributions. He says his theological background makes him gravitate more toward vocation language and considers his new position a calling.
“Both of us believe we were being invited into this work,” Antonio says, referencing he and his spouse, Gladys Antonio, who teaches in the Offutt School of Business. “The college did not hide the significant need for this office.”
In addition to Antonio, the Office of Diversity includes Amena Chaudhry, the diversity coordinator for student support services, and administrative assistant Farhiyo Abdulkarim. The other resources the Office of Diversity has, Antonio says, is human commitment and goodwill.
“The low-hanging fruit is the desire and willingness of the colleagues who want to do this work – faculty, staff and students,” he says.
Antonio says it is also important to start by acknowledging the various diversities that already exist on the campus beyond race and remember that people have more than one identity.
“If you honor people’s identities, you are far more likely to get them to work toward diversity,” Antonio says.
And Antonio is looking for the entire campus community to join him in creating a more diverse Concordia.