This semester, Brooklyn College welcomed a new member to the administration, Tony Thomas as the new Chief Diversity Officer and Title IX Coordinator.
Students may not be aware of Thomas’s job and its place on campus, but it’s an important one. As the Chief of Diversity and Title IX Coordinator, he is in charge of making sure Brooklyn stays a diverse and safe place for all.
His job has three primary duties. First, he oversees diversity and inclusion, making sure students and faculty alike feel “included in the campus community regardless of who they are, and creating an environment where they feel included and accepted.”
The second part of the job is overseeing student allegations of discrimination, where he and his team investigate the claim at hand and work to fix it.
The third part is overseeing compliance with the title IX, a federal law passed in 1972 which has protected students who are victims of sexual assault. Thomas and his office investigate complaints of sexual harassment, making sure BC is up to compliance with the law.
Thomas and his team also are involved in the hiring process to make sure the staff reflects the diversity of the school, as well as running program initiatives in free speech, inherent bias, and discrimination to make sure everyone is included and educated on these issues.
“I love higher ed, I love school,” Thomas said. As the son of a college professor, he was well familiar with the campus lifestyle. Fascinated with higher education and campus life, Thomas sought out Florida’s Stetson University, a good law school with a program in higher education. The program trained lawyers to work in a higher ed setting, which primed Thomas for a job at Georgia-Gwinnett College, which opened in 2006.
“It was a brand new university. I helped their legal department develop,” said Thomas. He eventually rose to general counsel for the school and became the chief diversity officer and Title IX coordinator there. He was then personally asked by the governor of Georgia to go down and help out at Valdosta State University, which was attempting some big changes. He served as general counsel to that institution, sat on the president’s counsel, and worked in many other capacities around the university.
Brooklyn College is very different than the universities Thomas has worked at in the past, being far more urban, and with large Asian and Hispanic populations. “Brooklyn College is the most regionally diverse college in the North, according to US News. That’s amazing. People don’t talk about that enough,” said Thomas. “It’s great because our students are interacting with people who are different than them on a daily basis.”
With such a diverse student body representing a wide set of opinions and beliefs, it can be difficult to keep everyone included and comfortable with their surroundings. For example, an issue like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, frequently starts debates around campus. Thomas acknowledged that discussions like this and others are a product of the diversity at Brooklyn. “That’s not a discussion my colleagues at Queens College are dealing with,” he said. Thomas keeps up with current events, such as conflict in the Middle East, in order to better understand and facilitate conversations among students.
Thomas believes in the mantra that diversity is important, particularly on a college campus, and that inclusion and acceptance in that environment is key to a positive experience. He also sees the term “compliance” thrown around by government programs such as Affirmative Action and Title IX, as the floor. “If we only follow what we have to comply with, we aren’t doing enough for our students.”
Moving forward, Thomas plans on continuing his work keeping Brooklyn College a safe and inclusive place for all students, regardless of race, color, creed, gender, or sexuality. So far he has helped facilitate a program for individual departments to ensure diversity in their hiring process, and plans to work with the school’s various diversity groups to ensure everyone is happy and included during their time at Brooklyn College.
Thomas’s office in Boylan Hall has an excellent view overlooking the east quad. “When I look out that window I want to see a diverse group of people talking with each other,” said Thomas. “That’s great stuff. We should be learning from each other.”