As Whitman College's first-ever associate dean for intercultural affairs and chief diversity officer, Kazi Joshua will be a key player in the creation of a strategic plan for diversity.
By Jenny Lewis
Since the time this article was originally published, Kazi Joshua's title was changed to Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion.
"Right now, as I'm talking to you, my life is divided into two halves," Kazi Joshua said of the winding path that led him from Malawi, Africa, to Walla Walla.
"Half in Africa, and half in the States. I've officially lived in two cultures for equal amounts of time."
To say that Joshua has personal insight into what it's like to be underrepresented in higher education is an understatement. He was a nontraditional student from the start of his American academic career. At community college in Vermont, he was older than his peers, working to pay his way through school and a person of color in one of the least diverse states in the U.S. Even the four-year Catholic school he attended next, Trinity College of Vermont, was a women's college. And it no longer exists.
As it turned out, though, the commitment to social justice that the founding Sisters of Trinity of Vermont had instilled in the campus culture was an excellent fit for Joshua, who later went on to graduate studies in theology at Yale and the University of Chicago.
"My professor of philosophy at the community college essentially took me and put me in his truck and drove me to the Office of Admissions at Trinity," Joshua remembered, chuckling. "He walked me to the admissions officer and said, 'This is Kazi. He needs to go to school here.'"
Perhaps it is no surprise that a person who entered academia as a minority followed a path that led to his appointment as a leader in Whitman's push for ever-increasing inclusion on campus.
"I consider myself privileged to be granted this great opportunity to be of service at Whitman," he said.
Joshua's work with social justice and diversity in higher education has spanned five institutions in the last two decades. He transitioned to Whitman from Allegheny College in Pennsylvania.
"I come to Whitman building on what others in the past have done, hoping I can make my own modest contribution."
Joshua aims to facilitate conversation and action at Whitman. Coordinating with faculty, staff, students and administrators, he leads the charge to create a comprehensive diversity strategy.
"The specific role of the chief diversity officer is to ensure, with others, that efforts and initiatives for diversity are clearly articulated, well-planned and -executed and consistent over time: a consistent change of culture toward greater inclusion."
Joshua has a long history with promoting inclusion in campus cultures: at his previous institutions, he's taught courses on community organizing, coordinated recruitment of underrepresented students and served on implementation teams focused on diversity and civic engagement.
"Questions of equity, social justice-they are the questions that animate me," he said. "In order for anyone to understand me and the work that I do, which is a way of saying what I have been called to do at Whitman, one has to absolutely understand Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement. If someone was to say 'what is Kazi about?' that's important to understand."
Joshua's training as a theologian has given him a particular perspective on social justice. It is based on a movement called Liberation Theology, which he describes as the belief that there is work to be done in identifying the places where oppression exists.
"Wherever I've been, I have seen my work simply as part of the service that God has called me to render to God's people, and God's world. That's not a dogmatic statement; it's a confessional statement. It means we can work together to make Whitman a better place, whatever your motivations."
Joshua is already involved with exploring four major areas of current campus culture to help shape a diversity strategy. As he explains it, this will include reimagining the compositional diversity at Whitman, systematically surveying the campus to get a feel for people's experiences of inclusion, taking a close look at diversity in scholarship and prodding the institutional structures that will hold up the plan.
Creation of a strategic diversity plan, Joshua said, will "include everybody: what is the kind of diversity we want Whitman to have, how do we get there and what are the specific goals over the next five years? It will be debated, vetted-it's a question of: is Whitman going to walk or is it just going to talk?"
In his estimation, Whitman will walk. "From everything I know, Whitman is poised and serious about going this direction. If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't [have come] to Whitman."
Joshua, whose wife and four children joined him in Walla Walla at the start of 2015, has an office with an open-door policy for students, faculty and staff. He encourages anyone in the Whitman community to find in him a willing and capable listener.
"My success depends on everybody within the Whitman community at present, and across the world, working together to make Whitman fully what it can become: a place where talented students from diverse backgrounds become citizens who give back to the world."
Whitman's new Diversity Council convened for the first time in mid-January. According to Associate Dean for Faculty Development Lisa Perfetti, the purpose of the council is to enable Whitman's diversity, equity and inclusion considerations to become more proactive and strategic.
The council will engage in a campus climate study, collecting data on faculty, staff, student and administrator perspectives on diversity, and will help generate and define the initial stages of the college's diversity plan. Co-chaired by Associate Dean Kazi Joshua and Associate Professor of Psychology Brooke Vick, the council will include students, faculty members, staff and members of the Board of Trustees, and serve as an advisory body to Joshua.