By Jonathan Santiago and Renee Walker, Nov. 22, 2022

The Office of the President announced Oct. 25 that Cynthia Pickett will assume the role of presidential associate for inclusion and chief diversity officer at Cal Poly Pomona.

As a member of President Soraya M. Coley’s Cabinet in this capacity, Pickett will lead CPP in its efforts to improve equity, diversity and inclusion. Additionally, Pickett will be responsible for working with partners from across campus to promote a strong sense of community among all Cal Poly Pomona students.

Mario Guerrero, co-chair of the search committee and associate professor in the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences believes that Pickett can bring a great deal of qualities to the position.

“Dr. Pickett has a lot of experience and enthusiasm for the role of CDO,” said Guerrero. “Her experience as a psychologist, which is related to the role of CDO, makes her very adept to the position and we are excited to have her on campus.”   

Pickett grew up in San Diego, living there until she graduated from high school. From there, she obtained her undergraduate degree in psychology at Stanford.

“In particular I was really interested in social psychology, which is the field where you are examining how the social environment influences how people think, feel and act,” said Pickett. “I was fascinated by that and decided to get my master’s degree and Ph.D. at Ohio University studying social psychology.”

Pickett began her career at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where she took a faculty position as an assistant professor for three years before moving on to the University of Chicago.

Pickett joins CPP from DePaul University, where she will be leaving the position of  associate professor of psychology and associate provost for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. In order to create a diverse academic community at DePaul, she created and put into effect a variety of recruiting rules and procedures that encourage inclusive hiring, cultivate encouraging academic environments and participate in proactive retention initiatives. Before DePaul, Pickett was formerly the vice-provost for Faculty Equity and Inclusion at University of California, Davis.

“During this whole time being on college campuses, working with students in particular, I really got to see the barriers and obstacles that different students face,” said Pickett. “As human beings we have an innate need to belong. When students, faculty and staff are on campus those are the people with whom they spend the most time around and so belonging is critically important. My academic background studying that is one of the things that I think qualifies me for this position.”

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Pickett

The position of CDO, originally held by Nicole Butts in 2020, comes after a two-year search that previously failed on account of the pandemic. Guerrero also attributed the failure of the first search to unqualified candidates that led them “back to the drawing board.”

Coley addressed the search committee in a meeting to discuss qualifications and the need for the position on campus. Since the position entails directly reporting to the President on DEI matters, it was imperative that the committee present their findings to Coley for potential candidates.

According to Pickett the process was “extensive.” She then titled herself as “one of the lucky ones” when she was contacted by the university for a campus visit. While at CPP, Pickett had the opportunity to meet with faculty members and administrators to understand the current needs of the campus.

“The pandemic laid bare the profound inequities in our larger society and how those may manifest at Cal Poly Pomona,” said Nicole Hawkes, search committee chair and chief of staff. “There is an urgency now, because once you know something, you can’t unknow it. There is an urgency to correct and address any feelings of harm, belongingness and safety on campus.”

Since its creation in 2018, the chief diversity officer position has undergone several changes. Instead of the logistical tasks undertaken by Title IX, the role now held by Pickett will have more of an emphasis on campus culture and student participation including to maintain a method to integrate diversity, equity and inclusion into all areas of the CPP’s operations.

“I’m really excited to join and learn more,” said Pickett. “I want students to feel comfortable reaching out to me and that’s something that’s really important. Students should feel free to reach out and talk to me directly.”

Feature photo courtesy of Cynthia Pickett 

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