John Carroll University showed commitment to university-wide diversity with the addition of the new appointed position of chief diversity officer. Terry Mills’ position has been effective since Aug. 18.
“I didn’t come to Cleveland for the weather, Mills joked, “I came to Cleveland because John Carroll’s commitment to higher education and social justice personally resonates with me.”
New York City native Terry Mills recently moved to Cleveland to join JCU as the University’s first Assistant Provost of Diversity and Chief Diversity Officer. Since Mills’ position is brand new, the duties of his job are still being developed. His role so far not only includes student diversity, but also making sure that diversity remains a priority at an institutional level.
“The chief diversity officer at JCU is situated so that I have the ear of the President, but also the board of trustees,” said Mills. “It is a very visible position. It is up to me to develop what the position is.”
Before starting in August, Mills was a sociology professor and the dean of research and sponsored programs at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. Previously, he worked at the University of Florida as associate dean for minority affairs and the director of the office for academic support and institutional services.
“There are two issues at the top of my priority list. One that is really critical is the need to align my office with other offices,” explained Mills. “The other issue that is very important is creating an open conversation, and I want the campus community to know that I do not stand in judgment over any ideas you have of the value of diversity.”
Since arriving at JCU, Mills has already seen instances of both civility and disrespect. Mills spoke about what it’s like to observe JCU’s campus from an outsider’s perspective. He describes a divide between the public and private attitudes of the student population.
Mills went to the football stadium a few weeks ago and walked past the picture of Father Casey in Casey’s Corridor. He noticed the word “queer” was below the picture, prompting him to think about what it meant to be a JCU student.
“I asked myself, ‘you have a Pope Francis picture in your dorm room, you go to Mass, but yet somehow there’s this disconnect between the public presentation of yourself and the more private presentation.’”
Mills elaborated on this discrepancy and posed questions for the campus community about self-identity and moral character.
“If you are a leader, aren’t you a leader all of the time? The question I ask myself is ‘who are you when no one is watching?’” Mills said. “That’s the person that we’re really interested in for JCU.”
This seemingly persistent inconsistency in character could be attributed to the fact that diversity means different things to different people.
According to junior Hannah Patterson, “It’s really cool that there are many different diverse people living under one roof.”
Junior Antonietta Bovenzi added how she likes “how JCU is a small private Jesuit school, but there are so many different types of people here.” She explained that “you learn so much from being with different kinds of people.”
However, sophomore Ese Osaghae believes JCU has some work to do when it comes to diversity. “We try to be diverse, but we don’t succeed per se,” said Osaghae. “It’s really exciting to see that the school has gone out on a limb to hire said position. I hope that the school partners with him very closely and hopefully he can meet with a couple of students who can guide the progress of the school’s hope for diversity.”
Mills talked about his perception of the different definitions of diversity.
“If we asked 10 people what they thought diversity was, we’d get 10 different answers. For me, I think about diversity in its broadest sense,” said Mills. “I’m not limiting it to race. I see gender as diversity, I see having veterans as diversity, I see international students as diversity, I see non-traditional older persons as part of our student body as diversity.”
To Mills, diversity is a component of excellence for the University. This involves questioning the reason why the goals of his position are important.
“We need to raise ourselves to the next level of excellence, and diversity clearly has to be a part of that,” he said. “If John Carroll isn’t preparing you to work with all different kinds of people, we are doing you an injustice and the tuition is too high.”
His first few weeks at JCU have led Mills to embrace the culture here.
“I don’t have to be a Jesuit, it was how I was raised. John Carroll is a reflection of who I am,” he said. “It is easy for me to make the shift to a place like John Carroll because of that.”
Mills emphasized that students play a pivotal role in JCU’s pursuit of excellence and commitment to diversity.
“The world belongs to you, young people. What kind of world are you going to have?” said Mills.
According to Mills, he’s looking forward to executing his vision of success at JCU. “My hope is that we’ll do so well that I won’t have a job. There won’t be a need for these kinds of offices,” he said.
Mills continued with his idea of success by referencing his upbringing and its effect on his attitude.
“We should be like New York, where [diversity] doesn’t even mean anything. It’s just the way it is. That’s a mind change, a cultural shift,” said Mills. “But again, I will say I believe with all my heart that John Carroll sincerely wants that. And I know without equivocation that Father Niehoff does.”
Mills illustrated his role as an educator with a picture frame given to him by a former student.
“One of my favorite recognitions that I ever got from a student,” he said. “See what it says?” Engraved on the frame was the phrase, “Thanks for challenging me to think.”
Mills said, “That’s what I’m here for—not to tell you what to think, but to challenge you to think it through.”