This summer, Gustavus faculty and staff conducted extensive interviews for the position of Director of the Diversity Center. The group was pleased to offer Sharon Sobotta the position. On Friday, Sept. 18, Dean of Students and Vice President for Student Life Jones VanHecke announced via email that Sharon Sobotta would not be able to join Gustavus for personal reasons. The search for Sobotta’s replacement has begun and will be finished by October.
Sabotta would have been the fifth director for the Diversity Center. The organization began with Denise Iverson-Payne (1999-2001), who was succeeded by Nadarajan Sethuraju (2001-2006), Virgil Jones (2006-2013), and Leonard-Rock (2013-2015).
Momentum began for a diversity center at Gustavus in 1989 when Dr. Joyce Parks created a report for the College on the diversity and inclusion on campus. On its webpage, the Diversity Center defines diversity as: “everything that we are and that we are not.”
The College scrambled to hire a new director over the summer after the last serving director, Pearl Leonard-Rock, resigned late in the spring semester of 2015. Students and faculty conducted interviews over the summer and Sobotta was clearly the top candidate. Sobotta was originally supposed to join the Gustavus community on Monday, Sept. 21. As of 10:15 a.m. last Friday, VanHecke believed that Sobotta would be joining Gustavus at a later date due to personal reasons. Just over five hours later, VanHecke sent out an email to students and staff that Sobotta would not be joining Gustavus. Vanhecke had sent an email to students and staff on Sept. 9 announcing the hiring of Sobotta.
Special Assistant to the Dean of Students and Interim Director Judy Douglas will be the advisor to the Diversity Center until the new search reaches its conclusion. Douglas has worked with Gustavus for over 30 years. She created and developed the Peer Assistant Program and is known for her work in drug and alcohol education. In October, the interm director will join a new Assistant Director and Gustavus students in the leadership of the Diversity Center.
While she did not get to meet many Gusties, Sobotta appeared to be a candidate that both the students and faculty in the hiring process wanted to bring in.
“There was near universal agreement among all the people who participated in the interview process that she was the top candidate. I think people felt like she had the skills and the background to really do a great job with the position,” VanHecke said.
VanHecke credits the faculty and students for their involvement in the summer hiring process that brought in Sobotta.
“The faculty were amazing, we had great faculty participation in the interview process. We had students on our search committee, which we always do. We feel really strongly about that. Obviously it was harder for students to participate in a search process because it was during the summer but we did have a group of students who came and attended the interviews with all of the candidates, so there was a student interview portion of the interview process for all of the candidates,” VanHecke said.
Students are a central part of leadership for the Diversity Center. Working in the Diversity Center is a work-study position on campus. Senior Financial Economics Major Haiyan Lang and Sophomore Hayat Butta both work for the Diversity Center. They are looking forward to the arrival of a new director and they both had ideas about how the Diversity Center could grow.
“I would like to see more events emphasizing the diversity of International Students,” Lang said.
The Diversity Center is located in the lower level of the C. Charles Jackson Campus Center.
“I would like to see more gatherings and discussions taking place in this space,” Butta said.
“There was near universal agreement among all the people who participated in the interview process that she was the top candidate. I think people felt like she had the skills and the background to really do a great job with the position.”
The director of the Diversity Center is responsible for responding to the needs of students and organizations on campus.
“One of the important pieces of it is the support of underrepresented students on campus. We want the D-Center to be a place where all of our students feel like they have a home but we especially want our underrepresented students to feel like there is someone there they can have as a resource, a referral, a support person,” VanHecke said.
VanHecke believes that it is important that the new director works with the elements the Diversity Center already has.
The Diversity Leadership Council as well as the peer education program are important parts of the Diversity Center that the new director will be able to work with this year.