by Sabrina Guilbeault ’18
Five days into her time at Providence College, Jacqueline Peterson sat down in her office in Harkins Hall and shared her insight as a consultant providing interim leadership and oversight to the Office of Institutional Diversity at the College. She will hold this position until the College’s first vice president for institutional diversity and inclusion is named.
In an introductory email Father Brian Shanley, O.P., sent out to the campus community last week, he stated, “Until this position is filled, I believe that we would be well served in our work to make Providence College a more inclusive, diverse, and equitable community by bringing in an outside consultant to provide a different perspective as we navigate this transitional period.”
With 30 years of experience, the world of higher education is not new to Peterson, who recently retired from her position as vice president for student affairs and dean of students at the College of the Holy Cross. Before her time at Holy Cross, Peterson held other careers in higher education, including the role of special assistant to the president/chief diversity officer at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY.
“Diversity and inclusion has always been on my agenda,” said Peterson. “It may not have always been in my title, but I have always been committed to those themes.” She explained that her passion for higher education, especially in student affairs, will assist her in partnering with the College as it moves ahead in diversity and inclusion.
“Looking at the very mission of PC and what the College wants to stand for, diversity and inclusion should be naturally embraced,” said Peterson. She went on to explain that it is a duty of the university to prepare students for life after college and to be successful leaders. “If we as institutions are doing our due diligence, there’s no way we can prepare students without the diversity and inclusion component,” she said.
She stressed that though the new position at PC will be filled, the job to embrace this component should not fall on that one person. “It’s everyone’s role,” she said.
On a first impression, Peterson said she does see that the campus is “poised for going to the next level.” She said, “There is a recognition of things that have been done, but there is more to be done”
“There are a number of important initiatives and practices that are in place, but it is sometimes easy to become complacent,” Peterson said. She explained that the themes of diversity and inclusion must be constant and consistent.
When asked to reflect on moments that have inspired her to return to higher education, Peterson was happy to share.
She remarked how in her time at Holy Cross, she was happy to see the percentage of underrepresented students on the campus quadruple and knows that the quality of student life has contributed to this.
“I’ve seen this change in student interactions and seeing students wanting to learn,” she said. She explained that having a real visual of signs on campus that displayed the College’s commitment to diversity and inclusion was inspiring.
All in all, Peterson emphasized how excited she is to be st PC and is looking forward to sit down with members of the campus community, and discuss the College’s history and future goals. “It is imperative to talk about an institution’s history in order to help direct where you’re going in the future,” she said.
“Overall, everyone I have spoken to really enjoys PC,” she said. She explained that seeing the College’s commitment to improve is encouraging and a good motivation for her.
Currently, Fr. Kenneth Sicard, O.P., executive vice president, and Kristine Goodwin, vice president of student affairs, are in the process of solidifying a search committee for the new vice president. Peterson will be at PC at the arrival of the selected individual for the position. In the meantime, she invites students and the entire PC community to reach out as she assists with the transition.