Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
September 27, 2022

Interim diversity officer advocates for inclusion

By SHERRY KIM | September 15, 2016

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COURTESY OF SHERRY KIM James Page will work to create an updated Road Map to Diversity that addresses student concerns.

Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at the School of Medicine, James E. Page Jr. became the interim chief diversity officer and vice provost for the University, effective Aug. 27. This is a new position at the University, following the departure of Caroline Laguerre-Brown who served in the dual role of both vice provost for institutional equity and chief diversity officer. Page’s interim appointment will extend through the search process of finding a permanent replacement.

Page emphasized the importance of confronting issues relating to diversity for the future of the University.

“As we look across Hopkins in general, we are asking what is the climate of Hopkins in general? What is it people are telling us about ourselves and how do we improve that climate so that it is conducive to everyone in our environment?” he said. “If we don’t get this right, the next hundred years are not going to be the same as the previous hundred or so years. We have to get this right for Hopkins to continue to be not just relevant, but a leader in our world when it comes to research, education, care, science and the arts.”

Page outlined the importance of the diversity officer’s role within the changing social climate of the nation, as well as the role that the University plays within this framework.

“Our country, our city is going through some real soul-reflecting when it comes to diversity in our environment,” he said. “It’s a global phenomenon as well so it’s not just limited to Baltimore or the United States. The role of the diversity officer has become more critical in recent years because of what is happening within our country — some like to call this a kind of civil rights 2.0 event happening now in our world.”

Page spoke about the difficulty in opening up a conversation on diversity that is conducive to respectful dialogue.

“We struggle with the balance between an environment where we can have rigorous debates around some very sensitive issues that people are passionate about, but also maintain an academic environment where free thought is not pushed down or punished,” he said. “That’s a tough, tough balance to have because people say things that personally, you may not agree with at all. But the fact is that for us to continue to create the kind of intellectual giants that Hopkins develops, we need that back-and-forth. That means sometimes we are going to be facing conversations and challenges that we might prefer not to be a part of. But that is what helps to develop strong citizens.”

He also pointed out that one of the major challenges in opening up a rounded discussion on diversity is fully representing everybody’s ideas on both sides of spectrum, whether conservative or liberal. He particularly highlighted the lack of conservative viewpoints being represented in the current discussion on diversity.

“One of the challenges we may have is making sure we are representing both sides — both the liberal and conservative side,” he said. “Usually when dealing with diversity issues, you’re dealing with more of the liberal mindset, the liberal viewpoint. Some of the feedback we heard is that we don’t see the other part represented in the roadmap. That’s a tough one as well. I know that diversity means we account for both sides and that we are learning from both sides. We do not simply tell someone because they have a conservative or liberal viewpoint, that their voice is not important.”

Page stressed the sensitive nature of talking about diversity because of how connected it is to individual identities.

“Diversity is something that people get very, very emotional about because it is at our core,” he said. “I cannot walk outside of this door and not be an African American, not be a male, or not be a husband or father of three kids — these are fundamental components of who I am, so when those items are not respected, it’s hard for people to separate diversity from themselves.”

Page spoke about the particular difficulties of working at a university where it is difficult to implement deep systemic changes in the way diversity is perceived in the span of an undergraduate’s time at Hopkins.

“One of things that is different on the University side than my experience at Dell or DaVita or other hospital systems is that there is a very limited window where we get to interact intimately with our undergraduate students. You have about four, five, maybe a six year period, depending on what you’re doing, and that’s it,” he said. “Some of the changes we’re talking about take over a hundred years. So the changes that we’re trying to put in place may not all be able to be done within the horizons of an undergraduate’s life span. I think one of the things we do have to do is figure out what we can do to show folks that within this period of time, we can make a difference. There are some folks at the university who have been here longer than I’ve been alive — we’ve got people who have been here fifty-plus years, so they’ve been here for quite a long time. Getting someone who used to do something a certain way for this many years to change isn’t always easy.”

Continuing, Page explained the duty the University has to its students in ensuring that their institution’s environment is one that both supports and represents their values.

“Our students are going to hold us to account,” he said. “They want to make sure that the environment they are going to spend for the next four, six or eight years of their life is in an environment that reflects their values. This is not just a place that you come and leave. Our students are living in this environment. This is their home. And they want to make sure that their home is a place that they can be proud of. So, as we start to think about what that means from all the different pillars, we do have a lot of work to do.”

Looking forward, Page elaborated on plans for the University’s Roadmap on Diversity and Inclusion initially released in the spring of 2016. He recognized the flaws inherent in the Roadmap’s first version, and the University’s continued commitment to improving and fostering dialogue on the issue of diversity through the platform of the Roadmap.

“This was a document that was put out to help create conversation and help us solicit feedback,” Page said. “We’ve gotten a lot of feedback — the BSU [Black Student Union], DLC [Diversity Leadership Council], among others, have provided extensive feedback on what they wanted to see done. As hard as we try, we are not perfect. There are areas that we have blind spots to. We are trying to figure out what we missed in our first version.”

Page also discussed the changes being implemented in response to feedback on the Roadmap, particularly the question of administrative transparency throughout the process of creating and improving diversity initiatives.

“We got feedback that we need more transparency around our activities, numbers and our successes and challenges,” he said. “You’re going to see some announcements shortly talking about our efforts around transparency for metrics, and it’s going to be unprecedented. No university is doing quite what we’re doing when it comes to creating transparency around metrics.”

In addition, Page pointed to the Faculty Diversity Initiative (FDI) and the commitment Hopkins is making to support postdoctoral faculty members. One initiative provides funds to support postdoctoral faculty members as they transition or extend their research.

Speaking about the search for permanently filling the role of Chief Diversity Officer at the University, Page affirmed that he was actively aiding the search. There is not a set timeline in place yet for the search, but Page stressed that the importance of finding the right person for the role.

“There are some advantages in taking our time and getting the right person in the role,” Page said. “Someone who can fill Caroline [Laguerre-Brown]’s shoes is going to be tough. We also have several initiatives we need to get out and get moving while we are thinking about filling this permanent role. This person has to have the skills, temperament, intellectual capacity, ability to deal with ambiguity that would make them a strong fit for JHU.”

When not promoting diversity at the University, Page enjoys cooking and spending time with his family in his spare time.

“I enjoy cooking, not just cooking regular stuff but complex type things — I roast a whole hog about twice a year. The day after Thanksgiving we have about 100 people over at our house, we do a seafood feast where take about five or six turkey fryers and fill them up with lobster, shrimp, sausage, corn, crab and everything else you could think of and do a huge seafood boil, and throw it out on the table. That’s part of my upbringing in Kentucky, and I also spent about twelve years in Austin, Texas. I like to do complex grilling. I did a 15-hour brisket earlier this week and it was amazing. I love spending time with my family — family is always first.”

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