On June 24, the University announced the appointment of Dr. Sylvia R. Carey-Butler for the position of Vice President for Institutional Equity and Diversity, The Herald previously reported. The University’s announcement stated that her position would include leading the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity, implementing Brown’s Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan, providing direction on programs and initiatives and overseeing investigations for protected classes, such as groups under Title IX.
“It is a tremendous responsibility,” Carey-Butler said in an interview with The Herald. She explained that while she has decades of experience in higher education, she does not yet know about everything thatmakes Brown’s community meaningful. According to Carey-Butler, it is “the norm” for the University to be a learning environment for the advancement of diversity, equity and inclusion.
“I am humbled that I find myself at a place where I know I have a lot that I can bring to the table,” she added.
Vincent T. Harris, associate dean and director of the Brown Center for Students of Color, described Carey-Butler as a “visionary.”
“She sees the vision … in others that they may not see in themselves,” he explained. Harris added that this quality makes him hopeful that Carey-Butler will support the University’s equity and inclusion efforts while also listening to the experiences of staff and faculty.
Before coming to Brown, Carey-Butler served as the Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Kennesaw State University in Georgia for three years. While at Kennesaw, Carey-Butler was a chair of the school’s Presidential Task Force on Race. She worked with a committee, which included alumni and students, to develop a set of recommendations and initiatives to advance diversity on campus.
She was attracted to Brown because of how she could advance DEI with the help of campus stakeholders including President Christina Paxson P’19 and Provost Richard Locke P’18. “Brown has been truly forward thinking ... and innovative in their efforts (towards DEI),” she said.
In an email to The Herald, Paxson wrote that Carey-Butler was chosen through a nationwide search for a leader who had “exceptional records of commitment to diversity and inclusion efforts.”
“We knew Dr. Carey-Butler would be well-positioned to ensure we continue to make gains in our very active diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, both as an institution and a community,” she wrote. “This includes propelling further progress on the priorities re-established through the second phase of the Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan and new and ongoing commitments aligned with the recommendations of the Task Force on Anti-Black Racism.”
Eric Estes, vice president for campus life and student services and co-chair of the national search process, wrote in an email to The Herald that Carey-Butler’s role “is a very important one at Brown” and that he looks forward to “working closely with her.”
“Sylvia stood out for her impressive expertise and experience,” Estes said in the University announcement of Carey-Bulter’s appointment. “She will make an immediate impact as a leader on campus, particularly in a moment that demands a sustained, thoughtful approach to working together to ensure equity and justice for all members of our community.”
Carey-Butler emphasized the importance of collaboration in her work as “no one person can transform a university.” She added that while many universities have a commitment to DEI, Brown’s commitment is “living” through policies such as DIAP.
Currently, she is working to reorganize her office and fill any employment gaps. This includes launching searches for a Title IX coordinator and an associate vice president along with awarding promotions within the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity.
Harris said that while he has not worked directly with Carey-Butler on projects yet, she has “shown up” to events he has invited her to, such as the Third World Transition Program, a preorientation program that centers on the experience of students of color.
“Her being present … early on in her tenure … just shows that she is going to be someone that (students, faculty and staff) can turn to,” he said.
Looking forward, Carey-Butler wants to increase awareness about how students can engage with the OIED, educate about Title IX and make trainings from OIED more accessible. She also wants to increase awareness about Brown’s affirmative action plan and how it can help the University “achieve a more equitable and diverse environment.”
She also looks to enhance the Brown-Tougaloo Partnership Program which, according to its website, is a partnership between Brown and Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi with a goal to enrich “both campuses through student, faculty and administrative exchanges.”
“Her experiences working with Historically Black Colleges and Universities and her commitment to community engagement are additional assets,” Paxson wrote.
Another project Carey-Butler looks forward to working on is an oral history project in collaboration with the Rockefeller Library. This project would focus on recording testimonies of Brown alumni who had negative experiences in the classroom during their time at the University.
“This is a way to give voice to their concerns and let them know that they matter (and that) their experiences matter,” she said.
Harris looks forward to working with Carey-Butler to create equity and inclusion efforts for undergraduate and graduate students of color and hopes that their offices continue to collaborate.
For Carey-Butler, to “work (herself) out of a job.”
“There would be no need for this kind of office,” Sylvia-Butler said, “because everyone would be … looking at their work through the lens of DEI.”