A Conversation with JJ Jackson, Interim Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

This academic year the College welcomed Interim Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion  (DEI) JJ Jackson. As the college continues its search for a permanent DEI Dean, JJ Jackson brings 38 years of experience in higher education to investigating the best recommendations for the College’s future. The Echo sat down with her to find out what’s up her sleeve for the rest of the academic year. 

How did you find yourself at Colby?

Following a recommendation from a noted search firm and discussion with others, Dean Burrell-McRae reached out to me to ask if I would consider an interim year at Colby in this position.  With support of the President [Greene], she was interested in having someone with my experience to provide insightful recommendations regarding the structure of the DEI dean position and associated issues around DEI and long-term institutional planning.  

How did your career path lead you to this position?

My career spans 38 years in higher education administration in positions of increasingly high levels of responsibility and authority.  My most recent positions included Associative Vice President for Student Affairs at NYU, Dean of the College at Vassar, and Vice President for Institutional Diversity at the University of Kentucky before retiring.  I then returned to higher ed for a short-term assignment at MIT doing DEI policy/programs review before retiring again. 

Why do you think having a DEI dean is important? 

Common wisdom has taught us that when everyone is in charge, no one is in charge, and efforts to pursue the College’s vision and mission become scattered and unfocused, and therefore frustrating and unrealized.  With someone designated to provide thought leadership and focused collaborative effort around DEI, all other endeavors and processes of the College are more clearly directed toward inclusive realization.

Why is it important for Colby right now?

The advancement of the human race is a collective endeavor.  Colby’s vision recognizes the importance of inclusiveness and equity in preparing its students to engage and lead in a global society from an inclusive vantage.  To lose sight of that is to risk further endangering our very existence.

What did you want to be as a kid? 

I always knew that I wanted to have a career of helping people come together around the common good.  As a child that dream was to be a physician, but as I matriculated through undergraduate school, my focus crystalized on student development. Later in graduate school my interests broadened to include a necessary focus on institutional practices and policies.

Does it have anything to do with what you’re doing now?

Absolutely!  I have come to realize that it had everything to do with what I’m doing now!  As it does for anyone else, my whole past comes to bear on my present engagement and the direction it takes towards my future.

How do you like Colby?

In the few weeks I’ve been here, I have met so many good people who love this College and its place in the advancement of humankind.  One of several striking things is Colby folks’ general embrace of inclusiveness and the will to grow diversity and equity. There are passionate people here who give promise to the vision of an inclusive Colby and its future.  Whoever comes into the permanent DEI dean’s position will have good stuff to work with.

Any favorite sites or locations? 

Having grown up on a farm in North Carolina, I still cherish open green spaces, beautiful landscapes and clean air.  There is an abundance of that here and I am heartened by the keen concern for the environment. I haven’t “gotten out much” in four weeks but I’ve discovered Riverside and its rustic setting, and just enjoyed moving through the countryside.

Favorite dining options? 

I love to eat and am still discovering great places to dine.  A wise person once said “It’s not where you are, it’s who you’re there with!” And eating for me is an important social activity that I prefer to do in good company.

What do you do to relax? (Colby can be difficult.)

I cherish every moment with my family and good friends, as well as opportunity to feel the connectedness with my wider surroundings. I enjoy so many things so travel is important to me. I seize and create moments to spend time with people, whether that’s around a meal or other activity.  In the quiet moments I enjoy reading and listening to music (both live and recorded), and I get great pleasure from live theatre (especially musicals).

What do you see yourself doing once your time as interim is over? 

I am eager to get back the time with my family and return to traveling. At the same time, I maintain availability to be able to help younger professionals develop or advance their careers, especially in higher education.  And I remain in touch students and colleagues from most of the institutions where I have served.