New assistant dean takes ‘retention first’ approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion

When Naomi Nishi, Ph.D., joins the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences October 11, she plans to begin her tenure as assistant dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion by lending a listening ear.

“First and foremost, I want to get a feel for what’s already going on in the diversity, equity, and inclusion space,” Nishi said. “I want to create synergy around these existing initiatives.”

Naomi Nishi
Naomi Nishi, Ph.D.

She’s eager to build on the groundwork laid by the college’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, which developed a sixth strategic pillar for the college aimed at helping the college “build a diverse and inclusive community with equitable pathways to success for all.” The first objective for this pillar was to hire the assistant dean position Nishi is filling, putting in place leadership to oversee and transform the college’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.

“We are very excited to have Dr. Nishi join us to lead our efforts in increasing diversity and enhancing equity and inclusion within the college,” said Rushika Perera, Ph.D., chair of the college’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. “For several years, many committee members have dedicated time, effort, and energy to develop programs and resources for improving our progress in this space.”

Faculty, staff, and students who have served on the committee over the years have put much thought and time into creating a strategic initiative at the college level focused solely on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“Dr. Nishi’s experience and education will accelerate these efforts and help us all to ‘build a diverse and inclusive community with equitable pathways to success for all,’” Perera said.

Building an inclusive environment

Nishi comes from the University of Colorado Denver Anschutz Medical Campus, where she pulled from a research background focused on racial equity in higher education to lead diversity initiatives, particularly related to research development.

Asking and understanding where faculty, staff, and students are coming from helps establish a starting point from which to move forward. Part of this includes defining key concepts so everyone is on the same page when having conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“I’ll be focused pretty heavily on making sure we’re building an inclusive environment within the college – I’ve been calling it a ‘retention first’ approach,” Nishi said. “Before we focus too heavily on recruiting diverse community members, we want them to be confident they’re coming into an inclusive place where they can thrive, not just survive.”

Nishi’s emphasis on adult education – and recognizing that adults bring unique perspectives and experiences with them into any context – will be a crucial asset as she approaches her new role at CSU.

“Self-work and self-reflection are necessary to change attitudes and achieve diversity, equity, and inclusion learning outcomes,” Nishi said.

Ensuring fellow community members feel welcomed and affirmed is a team effort – we’re all in this together. The hard work has already been started by the college’s committee, which is fleshing out a comprehensive diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy and looks forward to working with Nishi to help finalize the draft.