Leadership

SMU Names First Chief Diversity Officer

One thing is very clear: Our Black students, staff, and faculty need more allies, says SMU President R. Gerald Turner.

Moving forward to accomplish shared goals developed with Black students, faculty, staff, and alumni, SMU President R. Gerald Turner announced today that campus leader Maria Dixon Hall will fill the university’s newly created position of Chief Diversity Officer.

“The appointment of Dr. Dixon Hall to this important position is an institutional commitment to meaningful engagement and real progress in the person of a campus leader for whom equity is a passion,” Turner said. “Naming her to this position strengthens SMU’s mission to embrace excellence, integrity, intellectual freedom, open dialogue, diversity, and inclusion.”

Maria Dixon Hall

Dixon Hall is currently the senior advisor to the President for Campus Cultural Intelligence Initiatives and associate professor of corporate communications in the Meadows School of the Arts.

In her new role, she will report directly to the president and serve as a senior-level resource and a strategic partner to collaborate with SMU faculty, students, administrators, and staff—both initiating and reporting the outcome of diversity initiatives, policies, and programs.

Dixon Hall will work to align the university’s efforts to recruit, retain, support, and promote diverse faculty, staff, and students and will convene a University Diversity Council to connect the missions of the diversity officers of each school and administrative unit.

Additionally, she will supervise an employee to be hired for the newly created position of University Ombudsperson, who will provide confidential, neutral counsel for faculty, students, and staff who encounter conflicts relating to such things as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or religion.

Dixon Hall also will continue to coordinate the delivery of SMU’s Cultural Intelligence and anti-bias training for all members of the SMU community.

“I am deeply honored and humbled to be appointed by President Turner to serve our University in this critical role,” Dixon Hall said. “We are at an important crossroads for our country and campus, and the challenges to reweave the fabric of civility, diversity, and inclusion that binds us are daunting.

“However, I believe that as Mustangs, we are more than able to meet this challenge together in authentic and collaborative ways that affirm the sacred worth of every student, staff, and faculty member,” she continued. “Every day, I hope you will walk with me on the journey to create a campus where every Mustang knows they are valued.”

“We are at an important crossroads for our country and campus, and the challenges to reweave the fabric of civility, diversity, and inclusion that binds us are daunting.”

Growing from the national turmoil sparked by the late May death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, Black students, faculty, staff, and alumni at SMU used social media and other communications to share current and past incidents of campus racism and institutionalized bias.

Turner, Dixon Hall, and other campus leaders began a series of virtual town halls with members of SMU’s Black community in June to listen to their experiences and concerns and begin working together to develop an action plan for systemic change at SMU.

“These important conversations and the themes that are emerging from them are just the beginning,” Turner wrote in a June 12 letter to the SMU community. “But one thing is very clear: Our Black students, staff, and faculty need more allies and advocates on campus to create an environment where they feel they belong.”

While meetings with members of the campus community continue and the development of the action plan is ongoing, Turner stressed that appointing Dixon Hall as Chief Diversity Officer is a meaningful change that should occur at SMU now.

Dixon Hall joined SMU in 2004. She earned a Ph.D. in Organizational Communication from the University of Missouri-Columbia, a Th.M. in Homiletics from Emory University; an M.Div. from Emory University; and a B.S. in Marketing from the University of Alabama.

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