Vince Greer has been front and center in the foundational work of diversity and inclusion at CMC since his arrival as the first director of the CARE Center in July 2016. With George Floyd’s murder in late May prompting social justice protests around the country, Greer reflected on his work as associate dean of students for diversity, inclusion, and residential life, how everyone in the CMC community can help influence the newly announced President’s Initiative on Anti-Racism and the Black Experience, and why his CARE Center fellows keep him hopeful.
How did you process the news of George Floyd and the protests that followed?
You never want to see images like that. And, I think, as a society we have become too comfortable with images of Black people dying, and those deaths becoming normalized, so to speak. It’s not the first incident we’ve seen of an unarmed person who is Black in the last moments of life. I have since become encouraged by how much George Floyd’s death has mobilized and awakened everyone, which in turn has amplified the voices of those who have been fighting racial injustice for quite some time. I feel incredibly inspired by how this can be a pivotal moment in our country around issues—several longstanding issues—related to racism, police violence, and a need for reform. At the same time, it’s impossible for me not to think about my own personal identity and how it intersects with George Floyd. As a Black man, I could—I can—be in a similarly compromised situation. Generally, these are lower level interactions with law enforcement that escalate to a point of costing Black folks their lives. That cannot be accepted.
The CARE Center is responsible for so much foundational work on diversity and inclusion at CMC. How do you see your efforts contributing to the President’s Initiative, and perhaps, leading some of the changes that need to happen?
Diversity and inclusion work is optimal when the work and investment is a shared entity across the board. I’ve seen throughout my career—how larger diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts on an institutional level can be shifted and routed back to the usual diversity and inclusion-centered offices or through one-off programming as an ideal answer to correct or address systemic issues. While I understand why this sometimes happens—because in many cases, the experts on these matters work in those offices—it’s not how the best work can be done. It’s why I think CARE can be especially helpful moving forward, particularly with the President’s Initiative. This work has to happen in tandem, in real partnership with everyone at the College.
I always have to remind myself that I do this work every day. This is a norm for me. It is not a norm for others. The CARE Center’s programming, educational capacity building, and broader opportunities allow us to be at the forefront to help students who, prior to the events of this summer, haven’t been as inspired or don’t quite know how to be involved. Maybe there are students now who have had a shift in perspective or motivation. So, I see CARE taking the existing things that we do—for starters, our ally and implicit bias training with student organizations—and extending it to folks who have historically been on the sidelines. Because I know there are going to be some people who come to us and say, “OK, I see it now. I can get involved. I want to make a difference.” Being at the forefront of mobilizing that energy—that’s where CARE has to be. But again, it has to be in tandem to have a bigger effect.
I also need to mention the work of CARE in tandem with our CMC student identity affinity groups, who continue to lead these efforts at the peer level through programming, advocacy, and activism. I am hopeful that this summer will be the moment that inspires so many new faces to join in to help create a more inclusive and welcoming community for all.
Much of the CARE Center’s leadership is student-centered through its fellow program. How do you help students turn their interests and motivations into real change, especially at a moment like this?
It starts with truly meeting students where they are. We all have a starting point somewhere. None of us just woke up with a higher level of proficiency—it comes through direct lived experience, our families and friends, reading books, learning theories, the classes we’ve taken, and continued education. Whatever the entry point, we all had to start somewhere. CARE does its best to remember that and to be a community of open inquiry and growth—not judgment. Even as a person who has done this work for many years, I’m continually learning. There’s never a moment where you can say in the diversity and inclusion space, “I figured this all out.” Issues continue to evolve. They take on different forms based on the times. So, we try to reflect that as a CARE staff, to serve as a reminder that we’re all continually learning in these moments together.
It’s especially true of the involvement of our CARE fellows. Some have been passionate for social change as long as they can remember. Some have literally never engaged in diversity and inclusion work until arriving at CMC. Some are in-between. The design of our program is intentional. We want to model what this work looks like at all the different stages, and that is fully reflected in our fellows. It’s why we also encourage them to attend multiple programs led by other CARE fellows—to not just focus on a single issue. That way, they can learn techniques and facilitate conversations across a variety of topics and dialogues that their peers are interested in. It’s what allows them to practice empathy and learn about an experience outside of their own vantage point, to think more broadly about the impact they can have.
What is something that can be done right now for diversity and inclusion that would have the broad impact you referenced—at CMC and in our own communities?
We can all start now by looking inward. Be part of the solution by starting with yourself. Do you, knowingly or unknowingly, perpetuate racism—whether it’s through a lack of awareness, or shutting down conversations, or being defensive, or intentionally being a contrarian? What is your contribution, or do you avoid contributing? If so, why? For instance, I’ve facilitated or attended events that center around gender equity and redefining masculinity, and a lot of times, there’s an assumption from people that, “Oh, this is an issue for a specific group or identity. I have nothing to add. This doesn’t affect me.” We have to start seeing these issues as human issues that require our collective attention and humanity. That’s how we start to get engaged and better understand the role we can all play in this change.
What are some of the programs, conversations, or ripple effects that you are most proud of during your four years with CARE?
We recently finished exit interviews with our CARE fellows, and specifically for the 2020 graduating class, we learned so much about their changing perspectives throughout their four years at CMC. The personal growth that they didn’t necessarily anticipate or think would happen—they can now look back at trainings or sessions they’ve led, events they’ve attended, and they can reflect on that personal growth. It’s huge. I’m thinking about a recent CARE fellow who grew up in a pretty homogenous, white, affluent community, and even though she didn’t have a lot of experience with diversity and inclusion issues, she wanted to learn more and applied to CARE. In her four years since, she’s had several internships related to diversity and inclusion, and she specifically worked on issues related to gender, ability, and accessibility. She reflected in her interview how she had experienced a lot of personal and professional growth as a result of being a CARE fellow, and that’s now influencing her career choices. That’s what we emphasize—growth. What are the major turning points you can have in your four years at CMC and bring back to your communities?
Perhaps prompted by this moment, what are some initiatives that the CARE Center is working on through summer into the fall with students?
We’ve shifted our training with FYGs and RAs this summer to make it more intentional and related to what’s currently happening in the country. It allows us to have a conversation with another layer of context and readings that will be valuable. There is also a great deal of planning for fall semester with an understanding that adjustments need to be considered as it relates to COVID-19. Even if students are able to come back to campus, we know that the CARE Center, as a physical space, probably can’t be used in the same way because of physical distancing. So, we are being more creative in our delivery to students, whether through a podcast series, engaging videos, TikTok challenges, and other digestible ways to raise awareness and get folks engaged on these matters. We know that it will look different for the foreseeable future, but what we want to capture most is the organic way that students talk to each other in the CARE space, or have these same conversations in their dorms. If anyone has ideas or can offer expertise, we would love to hear from you.
One of our CARE fellows, Sobechukwu Uwajeh ’22, also started an anti-racist book club with two CMC students (Hailey Wilson ’22 and Sahib Bhasin ’21) for summer. She tapped Nyree Gray (associate vice president for diversity and inclusion and chief civil rights officer), myself, and other members of Dean of Students for resource support, and we’ll be helping with the sessions and organizing a training with assistance from CMC alumnus John Lenssen ’71, who is a longtime diversity, equity, and inclusion professional in the Portland area. (Ed note: Chosen books are Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander).
Having a student start an independent project feels like a big part of the CARE mission.
I’m certainly not surprised by it. Our CARE fellows feel a level of empowerment to take a project on and actively do their part to exact change. So, yes, it’s definitely rewarding to see a student like Sobé identify an entry point where she can positively impact the College community. Much of this work can feel overwhelming, but we always have to remember that we can be intentional and make a difference in a number of ways that are realistic and doable. The book club certainly serves as a great example of that. Working with students on projects like this; it’s what keeps me hopeful.