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Nancy "Rusty" Barcelo

Vice president and vice provost for equity and diversity Nancy "Rusty" Barceló

A community builder for diversity

Q&A with Nancy "Rusty" Barceló, U's first vice president and vice provost for equity and diversity

By Gayla Marty

Brief, August 9, 2006

After five years on the West Coast, Nancy "Rusty" BarcelÓ returned to Minnesota this summer. She's no stranger to the U. From 1996 to 2001, she served as the U's associate vice president for multicultural and academic affairs and also headed the Chicano studies department on the Twin Cities campus from 1999 to 2001. And she made her mark--a grants program for collaborative multicultural projects, established in 2002, is named in her honor.

At the University of Washington since 2001, BarcelÓ served as vice president and vice provost for minority affairs and diversity. She holds a Ph.D. in higher education administration from the University of Iowa and arrives with more than 20 years of experience promoting diversity and multiculturalism in higher education. As a Mexican-American, a woman, and a lesbian, she carries a strong sensitivity for the groups she now represents as the University of Minnesota's first vice president and vice provost for equity and diversity.

BarcelÓ talked recently about what brought her back to Minnesota and her vision for a path-breaking role.

What made you want to come back to the University of Minnesota now?

The whole strategic positioning process caught my attention. It was clear that diversity wasn't an add-on but a purposeful thread that ran through everything--every task force report, affecting the entire University, systemwide. The president recognized early on that diversity equals excellence, that it is important and crucial in the increasingly multicultural state of Minnesota and beyond. Being able to build something from the bottom up with the support and bold vision of the president and the provost is exciting. I want to be part of that.

And I like the ethos of the Midwest. When people think something is the right thing to do, they do it.

What do you want to accomplish?

Office of the Vice President and Vice Provost for Equity and Diversity
* Disability Services
* Office for University Women
* Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Programs Office
* Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence
* Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action

Office of the Associate Vice President for Multicultural and Academic Affairs (OMAA)
* Disability Services
* Office for University Women
* Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Programs Office
* Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence

I would like us to become the national model for diversity in higher education, which is really about faculty, staff, and students building community on all of our campuses. People come to the U from around the world for medical care...someday, I hope people come to us to figure out how to do diversity. When we talk about the U being in the top tier of research universities, that means excellence, and excellence includes diversity. We need to think about diversity in these terms. I want diversity to be spoken about in the same way as excellence.

We can do this in ways that really will transform this university and impact the futures of faculty, staff, and students. We have a good base from which to launch this work. Since the appointment, I've received a lot of messages of support, and for this to work, it really has to be a collaborative effort. A lot of people here are doing the work [of diversity] how do we collaborate? Maybe models for diversity will look different on the individual campuses. They should be tailored to fit the needs of faculty, staff, and student communities. One thing we must do is focus on building external ties--we can't do this work in isolation.

In the areas of equity and diversity, where do you see the University of Minnesota on the national landscape?

We've long been recognized as national leaders in the higher education community. The University of Minnesota conference series, "Keeping Our Faculties" of color, is an example of that leadership. Our SEAM program--Student Excellence in Academics and Multiculturalism, which was based on a University of Washington initiative to retain students of color--is an innovative program that gets a lot of attention. We need to continue to build and expand on these types of programs across the system.

This position is attracting national attention. Many in the higher education community will look to see how we create new models for building communities that engage faculty, staff, and students. These new models need to link theory and practice through scholarship. We need a diversity research institute as a point of engagement for the faculty and the community--there needs to be more public engagement. The University of Minnesota is poised to become the leading model for addressing diversity in higher education.

For the first time, this position is at the vice president level. How will that make a difference?

It levels the playing field by making diversity an integral part of the president's cabinet and the entire University. Leadership for diversity will come from the highest level of the institution, and consequently, all vice presidents will be involved in diversity and providing leadership in this area to their constituencies. Diversity is everybody's responsibility, from the president, provost, vice presidents, and on down to the very last person on the org chart. We all play a role. I look forward to working with the president's cabinet on these efforts.

How do you define multiculturalism?

We need to think of multiculturalism not as a way of assimilation, but as a way to acknowledge and value everyone's different experiences. We need to work together as we maintain our individual identities. I fundamentally believe we can't leave our identities outside the door. All perspectives need to be at the table, and that leads to a much richer working experience and outcome.

When it comes to creating a truly diverse University--faculty, staff and students--what's going to be your biggest hurdle?

Image is certainly one of our biggest issues. When I returned to Minnesota, I went to the Cinco de Mayo celebration and I couldn't believe how it's grown! The image of Minnesota as a whole is that it's less diverse than it really is. That's true for the University, too. There is a multitude of voices, stories, and perspectives that have in fact been influencing educational practices and knowledge since before colleges and universities came into being. Today our stories--read together, layered one over the other, bringing together disparate knowledge and traditions--can only build a stronger, more inclusive university...

...Changing our image among parents is important....Our alumni make incredible contributions and we need to make sure that they are part of our image....We need to draw upon the work related to our land-grant mission. We have extension offices across the state--how can we use them more in this effort?

I think diversity is about building communities, and universities are made up of multiple communities. The complexity of this work requires that these multiple communities work together in new ways to build on the past, but with the courage to meet the changing needs of our time....I wouldn't have come back if I didn't believe this is possible.

Can you talk more about how your role will affect staff and faculty?

The new Office of the Vice President and Vice Provost for Equity and Diversity has responsibility for the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action and the units of the former Office for Multicultural and Academic Affairs (see box, above right). Several of the units already provide services for faculty and staff, and that won't change. But we will be assessing those services as we look at transforming the U through new and different models for excellence by building a diverse University community. We have an opportunity as we build up this office to focus on faculty and staff in new ways. My role as provost will enhance this effort as we begin to look at academic research and broader faculty issues.

How do you view yourself as an administrator?

Primarily as a community builder. My generation is the generation of new scholars and leaders in the academy that wrote about bridges and alliances. I see this work as an ever-widening circle of inclusion.