Dear Students, Faculty and Staff: As we look forward to the energy that comes with students returning to campus soon, I would like to recognize the important work so many individuals have accomplished this summer. I also want to give…
Q&A and Podcast With Diversity and Inclusion Vice President Mary Grace Almandrez on Building Community, Creating Opportunities for All to Thrive
As she settles into her new office at Steele Hall, Mary Grace A. Almandrez will be putting up a painting her brother gave her that reminds her of the importance and purpose of her life’s work.
“I am Filipina, and I’m very proud of that identity. And in that painting, it depicts the value of ‘bayanihan,’” says Almandrez, vice president for diversity and inclusion, who begins in her role today. “Bayanihan refers to a community coming together for the greater good.”
The painting shows a group of individuals carrying a hut on bamboo poles, a practice typical in rural villages where the community helps move a neighbor’s home. All those who can assist help with the move, and then the family hosts a dinner for everyone, regardless if they assisted or not.
“I bring that painting everywhere I go because it reminds me of the values I hold of treating people with respect—seeing the dignity, coming together for the greater good, not expecting anything in return,” Almandrez says.
Those values are embodied throughout her family and community—and those are the values she brings to her work and the reason why she does the work.
Almandrez, who has spent the last 25 years working in higher education leadership roles, was drawn to Syracuse University because of the diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA) work being done by campus community members.
“The ability for me to come in and to work with an already strong established team, and to also report to a chancellor who has shown this commitment was very exciting for me. When the opportunity presented itself, I could not pass it up,” she says.
In the following podcast and accompanying Q&A of highlights, Almandrez talks about her experience in DEIA, her priorities as she starts in her new role and what she does for fun outside of work.
Here is the full conversation with Almandrez on the ’Cuse Conversations podcast. A transcript [PDF] is also available.
01Tell us about your background in diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility leadership.
Before I get into what my background is, I need to lead you to the first time I even imagined I would be doing this work. And that’s the first day of new student orientation at the University of San Diego. That first night we had a surprise event. It turned out to be a huge square dance in the middle of the law school parking lot. And I draw your attention to that moment specifically because I was raised in San Diego. It’s very diverse, but at that square dance, I felt alone, isolated, confused, even fearful that I made a mistake by choosing the University of San Diego.
And that’s because I didn’t see any diversity among the sea of 1,000 people. And just as I was turning around to go back to my room, I happened to see across the law school parking lot a small group of individuals with dark hair and dark skin. They turned out to be other students of color who were also student leaders at the United Front Multicultural Center at the university. They introduced me to that center. It allowed me to meet a diversity of different people from a variety of backgrounds. I became a student leader in that center, and I would not be the VP for diversity and inclusion today were it not for that event.
I wanted to take an active role in making sure that campuses across the country were welcoming, were inclusive, were able to provide environments where students and their families and communities can thrive.
Since then as an undergraduate and throughout my professional career, I’ve done different aspects of DEIA work, including being a dean of students overseeing a multicultural center and working on a campus climate assessment. So the breadth and depth of my portfolio is really due in large part because I wanted to make sure I was doing work in different parts of the campus that would have the broadest reach. I also explore how I can work closely with my colleagues, alumni and community leaders who can make this environment inclusive and accessible for all.
02What does DEIA mean to you?
It includes the full participation of all members of our community. It creates opportunities to thrive and to be successful in their respective roles. It is a feeling of belonging, a feeling that I can contribute to the greater good of the community and that my contributions will be valued.
It’s looking at issues of fairness and of equity. It allows for all members of the community, again, to participate in ways that are meaningful for them.
03What do you think are going to be the most important priorities right away over the short-term? And then what are some more long-term priorities that you can’t wait to tackle?
After reading some of the documents and looking through my notes and reflecting on my conversations with community members, I think building community is going to be really critical. I know that there’s so much good work being done across campus. We have this real opportunity to now collaborate and streamline some of those efforts so that we are best leveraging our resources to serve our community.
The other piece is to make sure we get on implementing the DEIA draft strategic plan. It’s really important that we follow through with the commitments and the recommendations that our community members have identified.
04What do you like to do for fun? What are some of your hobbies?
One of my loves is actually dancing. That’s how my husband and I met, salsa dancing. I love to travel; I love to cook and to eat equally.
I also like being outdoors. A lot of people have given me recommendations of what to do in the area. I’m really excited to see Central New York and the Finger Lakes region, especially during the summer.