By Grace Austin

Founded in 1856, the University of Maryland is the largest school in Maryland and considered the flagship university in the state. Located in College Park, Maryland is a public university, well-known for their athletic prowess in basketball, football, and lacrosse. With a large student population of more than 35,000, diversity amongst the student body has grown, but is still a hot-button issue. In an attempt to increase diversity and develop the diversity office, Maryland has recently named a Chief Diversity Officer, Dr. Kumea Shorter-Gooden.

“Maryland has done a good job over the past few decades at developing diversity-based offices, programs, and initiatives. But what has been missing has been a comprehensive, systematic, and strategic focus. There hasn’t been senior leadership to provide voice to these issues, but the chief diversity officer will have a more systematic perspective and opportunity to advocate and articulate around diversity issues,” says Shorter-Gooden.

Dr. Kumea Shorter-Gooden was appointed Maryland’s Chief Diversity Officer in January 2012. Shorter-Gooden is a licensed psychologist and previously worked as Associate Provost for International Initiative at Alliant University based in Alhambra, California. Shorter-Gooden’s work at her previous position was similar to that of a chief diversity officer. Prior to that, she worked as a psychology professor for 16 years.

“I see my job as helping to pull together the pieces, helping to align the various offices and initiatives so we can really harness the strengths and the capacities that were set out,” says Shorter-Gooden.

Shorter-Gooden was chosen through a meticulous search process headed by a 15-person committee that included many important leaders at Maryland, including the Associate Provost for Diversity & Equity, Dr. Lee Thornton. Thornton’s position was absolved when Shorter-Gooden took office.

Thornton leaves behind a remarkable legacy of diversity innovation. In her position, Thornton conducted 12 in-depth interviews with academic deans on issues of retention, recruitment, and leadership of faculty of color. Thornton also wrote the diversity policy for Maryland’s Merrill School of Journalism, and sat on the university’s President’s Commission on Ethnic Minority Issues for four years, chairing the commission twice.

Says Thornton about Maryland’s diversity efforts and her tenure as head of diversity: “I believe passionately in the work and in a vision that must be ever evolving as this nation evolves. I grew up in a segregated America. I marvel at the country we now live in and I feel privileged to have been able to lend my abilities to the effort at Maryland.”

Diverse Groups at Maryland

Asian Americans and African Americans each comprise 14% of the campus makeup, making them the largest minority groups.

“African Americans are a significant minority group, yet underrepresented in terms of their population in the state of Maryland. Clearly, we need to do much work in efforts to look more closely as to what are the strategies to recruit and to retain. We need to achieve parity in terms of admission, retention, and graduation,” says Shorter-Gooden. “With African American, Asian American, and other marginalized groups, we need to learn how the university can change to better accommodate these groups.”

Maryland has a large percentage of over-25 students, approximately 20%. The LGBT community is active, too, sponsoring annual events like “Pride Prom.” Maryland also boasts an LGBT Studies Program, one of around 40 universities in the country to do so.

Maryland’s campus is known for its political activism and a socio-economically diverse population, a rarity at most universities.

“Socio-economic issues are really important. Clearly, we are in a time of recession and budget cut-backs, and when it’s harder for families to pay for higher education. We have a commitment to make sure Maryland is accessible to all families of the socio-economic spectrum,” says Shorter-Gooden.

Benefits of Location, Strong Activism

Close to the Washington, D.C. metro area, Maryland offers a safe campus close to the big-city experiences that the capital has to offer. Many opportunities are available at the institution due to its large population, whether they be intramural sports or clubs and groups.

“Fraternities, sororities, student clubs and organizations are a really critical element of creating a diverse and inclusive campus. One of the things that’s going to be really important for my office early on is to connect to staff and faculty that are directly involved with these organizations, as well as student leaders from the student organizations and to get a sense of what their thoughts are to create a more diverse and inclusive campus for all,” says Shorter-Gooden.

New Era at Maryland

Shorter-Gooden is aware of the challenges and pressure that awaits her as Maryland’s first Chief Diversity Officer. These include reaching out to underrepresented communities, improving faculty minority representation, and navigating the large student and faculty populations.

“Maryland is very big,” says Shorter-Gooden. “The challenge is how do you get buy-in and engagement with those people. It’s really about getting a whole community involved, with a big community that makes it harder.”

Shorter-Gooden hopes to use her status to grow the university’s diversity program and improve the diversity make-up at Maryland.

“This is the beginning of a new era at Maryland,” says Shorter-Gooden. It is the beginning of a more strategic focus on diversity, organized, coordinated set of efforts to achieve the vision of a university that is truly diverse and inclusive. Obviously this is something that other universities are working on, and will not occur in the short run, but we need to be aware of where we’re at with that vision, and ways to better achieve that vision.”

Maryland #1 for African-American Degrees
Among African-American students, University of Maryland (UM) granted 914 total degrees—baccalaureate, doctorate and master’s—the most of any school among the U.S. News & World Report’s top 20 public universities.

UM also is No. 1 in granting baccalaureate degrees to African-American students among the U.S. News’ top 20 public universities.

Top 5:
University of Maryland: 704 degrees
University of Florida: 687 degrees
The Ohio State University: 563 degrees
University of North Carolina: 419 degrees
University of Illinois: 395 degrees

In fact, the University of Maryland has held this No. 1 position among the top 20 public universities for 10 of the past 11 years, according to Diverse Issues in Higher Education.