Whitman College President Kathleen Murray today announced the appointment of Thomas Witherspoon as the college's new vice president for diversity and inclusion.
Currently the associate dean of students and director of multicultural student support services at Denison University in Ohio, Witherspoon will begin as Whitman College's vice president for diversity and inclusion before the 2019-2020 academic year. His responsibilities will include providing leadership in advancing and ensuring an inclusive learning community; serving as a member of the president's cabinet; and advising and counseling students, faculty and staff in order to facilitate a positive experience for every member of the Whitman community.
"Dr. Witherspoon brings with him years of work in higher education with a focus on underserved populations," Murray said. "Throughout the interview process, Thomas impressed the search committee with his energy and enthusiasm for his work. But it's his track record of using data to evaluate campus culture and using it to take concrete steps to improve the experience of community members of diverse backgrounds that makes him ideal to lead Whitman's diversity efforts."
Witherspoon comes to Whitman with nearly 15 years of experience as a higher education professional, most recently at his alma mater Denison University where he has spent the past several years as the associate dean of students and director of multicultural student support services. In that role, Witherspoon led the development of a new student space dedicated to cross-cultural engagement; trained students, faculty and staff on issues related to retention of traditionally underserved populations; lead a committee of faculty mentors to support students from community-based organizations; and established a network of support for first-generation college students.
Prior to his work at Denison, Witherspoon served as the assistant dean of undergraduate students at Dartmouth College and as associate director of admissions at Boston University. Early on in his career, Witherspoon served as the program director for The Posse Foundation, an organization that recruits and trains diverse groups of high school student leaders and works with partner colleges to help students transition into and excel in college.
Witherspoon says he is excited to be joining a vibrant community like Whitman.
"I was initially attracted to Whitman College because of its inclusive approach to diversity and its academic reputation," Witherspoon said. "But what impressed me the most was my time on campus, where I saw the passion, pride and optimism from students, faculty and staff around the future of the college."
The search committee for Whitman's vice president for diversity and inclusion worked since early this year on the nationwide search, vetting and interviewing a diverse group of highly qualified candidates. The firm Storbeck/Pimentel & Associates provided executive search services. Overall, the committee sought a candidate with experience in supervision, program development and student organization advising, knowledge of the best practices in promoting diversity in higher education, the ability to build relationships with a wide range of people, a collaborative leadership style, and a commitment to the mission of a liberal arts college with the understanding of the importance of diversity as part of the overall educational mission.
"President Murray and the dedicated team of staff, student and faculty representatives on the search committee recognized that this is an extremely important position for the college and that we had to get it right," said committee member and Associate Professor of Sociology Gilbert Mireles. "We were fortunate to have many great candidates and it was clear that Dr. Witherspoon possessed the combination of skills, knowledge, experience and energy that made him a great fit for the role. "
Witherspoon succeeds Helen Kim, who has been serving as interim vice president for diversity and inclusion since July. Kim was asked to take on the role after former vice president for diversity and inclusion Kazi Joshua accepted the role of Whitman's vice president for student affairs and dean of students on an interim and then permanent basis.
Witherspoon received his doctorate in higher education administration at New England College, his master's at Northeastern Illinois University, and his undergraduate degree from Denison University.
Witherspoon will move to Walla Walla and begin his responsibilities this summer.