Interim Chief Diversity Officer Keith A. Alford has always been guided in his professional and personal life by the words of the African proverb, “I am because we are, and because we are, therefore I am.” It speaks to him of family, community, and the shared trials and triumphs of lived experiences that bind people together.
In his academic life as chair of the School of Social Work in Syracuse University’s Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics and associate professor, the ties between students and professors supports their experience of learning and teaching together. Now, in his role to help find solutions for a more inclusive campus, Alford sees the proverb’s message resound across the wider SU community. “We are here for each other at all times. It’s important that we support each other and help students learn how to navigate our multicultural world, with an emphasis on equity and social justice,” Alford says. “But let’s also celebrate excellence and accomplishments with each other—that speaks to our interconnectedness.”
As the University conducts a national search for a chief diversity officer, Chancellor Kent Syverud asked Alford to take on the interim role on July 1, 2018, a few months after a Campus Conversation event Alford moderated. “Dr. Alford brought together diverse viewpoints, listened and responded in thoughtful ways to difficult issues, and helped unite our community in a common purpose,” Chancellor Syverud says.
Alford, who received a Ph.D. from the College of Social Work at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, specializes in mental health service delivery to children and families, culturally specific programming for children in out-of-home care, and loss/grief reactions among African American families. Also a member of the Diversity and Inclusion Council , he’s focused his academic career on embracing the many identities that enrich society. “I feel humbled and fortunate to serve in this new role,” Alford says.
Since his appointment, Alford has sought to deepen engagement and strengthen relations among campus community members through the Embracing Our Connectivity initiative . The campaign will include campus displays of quotes and images from students that illustrate diversity and inclusion, “Let’s Connect” lunches hosted by Alford with small groups of students, and other campus-wide sessions to discuss matters of concern.
Alford emphasizes that the University’s latest efforts to address matters of bias represent a continuation of diversity and inclusion initiatives underway for many years. “There are people who have served in various capacities associated with diversity and inclusion who continue to pave the way,” Alford says. He noted the current work of inclusive teaching workshops through the Office of Academic Affairs and Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence, the various councils and committees focusing on diversity and inclusion, and ongoing efforts to recruit and retain faculty of color.
At Syracuse University, we value diverse identities and cultural perspectives.
In his role, Alford comes together with many leaders and offices working on these issues, including members of the newly created Inclusive Leadership Assembly. The group, chaired by Alford and composed of faculty and staff from each of the University’s schools and colleges who lead the diversity and inclusion efforts in their respective units, discusses best practices and exchange ideas.
Alford has also met with a variety of student groups, including members of the Student Association, to make sure students feel they’re being heard. Along with creating a welcoming campus, the importance of all this work is ensuring that all students feel valued, he says. “At Syracuse University, we value diverse identities and cultural perspectives,” Alford says. “It is our premise that diversity and inclusion enhance who we are as students, faculty, staff and alumni.”