In the summer of 2022, Dr. Phyllis Esposito was appointed as Vice President and Dean of Institutional Diversity. Esposito brings years of experience as a teacher at the K-12 level and as an educator of pedagogy. At Reed, Esposito hopes to develop the Office of Institutional Diversity (OID) into a more open and central space on campus.
Esposito maintains one goal as both a challenge and a motivation: how to have the most impact in her profession. For this reason, she shifted from her role as a teacher of students, to a teacher of teachers, and eventually to an administrator. Much of her occupation has centered around diversity and equitability, most notably through her work in training professionals on inclusivity, as well as her time as a multicultural resource director.
Esposito explains this, stating, “I think the through thread was a question that I had when I was a teacher: how do we create more equitable practices, access, and opportunity for those who look like me, who may have never had that.” Esposito goes on to emphasize that behind her actions lie her values, and she seeks to constantly improve her contributions through inquiry. She draws from the work of Boston College Professor of Teacher Education Marilyn Cochran-Smith, stating, “What she [Cochran-Smith] realized when she stopped and actually took an assessment of her own classroom, she realized she wasn’t serving all students well.” Esposito poses the question that drives her work, “How do I have this in my practice, this is what my values are? And so that is part of how I go about my work. And I think Reed overall values intellectual inquiry as a way of thinking”.
As she enters her role, Esposito draws from another figure to determine her actions as she begins her role. She states, “What [educational philosopher and activist] Maxine Greene said is that doing this work as educators, we have to entertain the possibility that we’re wrong, and so that coupled with inquiry, […] I think that those things connect for me and that [Reed] might be the place in order to do that and to do it in collaboration with faculty, staff, and students.”
Esposito continues to highlight the value of relationships in her role, as she says that most of what she has been occupied with since her arrival is meeting students, faculty, and staff to learn where she can best serve. She explains, “I think for a lot longer what I want to do is to make sure that I’m listening, and I’m not operating under assumptions, and I find ways to bring genuine participation.” She also recognizes that she is new to her role, saying, “I’m an outsider to this environment”, but she remains committed to learning and equipping herself to best be a resource for students.
When asked about future plans for OID, Esposito acknowledges the recent turnover in her role, as well as within the OID. She states that there are plans within the office to improve retention, including clarifying position descriptions and responsibilities. Although plans aren’t quite concrete yet, Esposito stresses that addressing the issue of turnover is at the top of her list, and she hopes to create some stability and structure within OID to improve operations. Esposito says, “If there are things that we find in our policies, systems, procedures, and structures, that’s an opportunity for me to kind of come back around and say, what’s the learning that needs to occur?” She also highlights the deliberation that lies behind her decisions during this process, stating, “I want to be tactical, I want to be strategic. And I want to be proactive and rooted in the student-employee experience.”
In a similar vein, Esposito has strong plans to establish a foundational structure to ensure that OID can perform more work and be an effective system at Reed. She states, “I know the office has been in existence for a while and has done good work, but I think that there’s an opportunity now for us to think about it on a more structural and systemic level than an office.” Esposito sees work towards equitability as much larger than office walls, and she envisions OID as a space that extends into every aspect of Reed, with wider access to OID as a resource for support in mind.
As she finishes her eighth week in her role, Esposito states, “I ask for grace as I navigate this space.” She highlights that she is still learning, and she is always open to feedback. Esposito hopes to build trust within the Reed community by exercising integrity in her role, as well as through collaboration and collective work.