As the new chief diversity officers for Georgian Court University, Ariana “Ria” DasGupta, Ed.D., and Joy L. Smith, Ed.D., bring wide-ranging experiences and very different responsibilities to the job. Yet they begin their new roles with one thing in common: both Dr. Smith and Dr. DasGupta believe they were born for this work—making equity, inclusion, and diversity the norm rather than the exception.
“They will work with me and with our chief mission officer (Paul DaPonte, Ph.D.) to educate and guide our community to better live our Mercy mission,” said GCU President Joseph R. Marbach, Ph.D. “Doing so requires us to lead—and come together—by respecting and celebrating the dignity of each person we encounter.”
Dr. Marbach announced the creation of the positions in June 2020 and by fall, launched a national search that yielded two chief diversity officers. Dr. DasGupta and Dr. Smith, who were named in January, are leading campus and community listening tours this spring. They will also be at the helm of GCU’s existing Council for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI), an all-volunteer group that launched in 2019, and will advise President Marbach on a wide range of needs and opportunities.
DIVERSITY, EQUITY ARE PART OF “EVERYTHING”
“Our work is to make it clear that diversity, equity, and inclusion are part of everything,” said Dr. Smith, GCU’s chief diversity officer for institutional and student affairs. The Syracuse University (College of Arts & Sciences and School of Education) alumna earned her doctorate from Rutgers University. Her research interests include social inequality and the intersection of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation in higher education.
“Everyone needs to understand how diversity, equity and inclusion relate to their areas of work—whether it’s academic areas or administrative areas—this is their job, too. We are inviting people to bring their talents and skills to the table in ways that honor their identities and experiences,” Dr. Smith added.
Building on those experiences is critical, according to Dr. DasGupta, a Rutgers graduate (Douglass College) who earned her doctorate in international and multicultural education at the University of San Francisco. She will serve as GCU’s chief diversity officer for academic affairs and community outreach.
“My work is primarily with faculty to build inclusive classrooms and pedagogy, to create awareness, and to cultivate understanding around inclusive spaces,” said Dr. DasGupta. “It’s also about building capacity and developing our curriculum with the intention of incorporating equity, diversity, and inclusion holistically.”
A MATTER OF MISSION
The Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is housed under the Office of Mission Integration at Georgian Court. The organizational structure reflects GCU’s commitment to the university’s Mercy core values of respect, integrity, justice, compassion, and service.
“They are strong values that are essential to DEI work,” said Dr. DasGupta, noting how they also reflect the global mission and concerns of the Sisters of Mercy, GCU’s founding order.
She understands that the chief diversity roles at GCU come with enormous responsibility—from convening dialogues around racism to rethinking inclusiveness related to ability, gender dynamics, socioeconomics, and sexual orientation.
Neither Dr. DasGupta nor Dr. Smith is going it alone, though.
“We need the entire GCU community—faculty, students, administrators, and alumni—to be ambassadors as we lead the charge,” said Dr. Smith. “Ria and I won’t do all the work. We create the vision for what needs to be done, but having people dedicated to the work of being a champion for diversity, equity and inclusion is critical.”
About Georgian Court University
Founded in 1908 and sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, Georgian Court University is Central and South Jersey’s only Catholic university. GCU is a comprehensive, coeducational university with a strong liberal arts core and a historic special concern for women. As a forward-thinking university that supports diversity and academic excellence, GCU is known for expanding possibility for more than 2,400 students of all faiths and backgrounds in 35+ undergraduate majors and 10+ graduate programs. The GCU Lions compete in 14 NCAA Division II sports in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC). In 2019, GCU was named a Best College for Your Money by Money Magazine and a Best Bang for the Buck (Northeast) by Washington Monthly. GCU rose more than 30 points in the 2019 U.S. News & World Report rankings due, in part, to high student retention and graduation rates, which also made GCU a Top Performer on Social Mobility. The main campus is located in Lakewood, New Jersey, on the picturesque former George Jay Gould estate, a National Historic Landmark. Georgian Court, which is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, also serves students at other locations, such as GCU at Hazlet, GCU at Rowan College of South Jersey–Cumberland Campus, and through multiple online certificate and degree programs.