Dean of Equity and Inclusion and Vice President for Institutional Research
and Planning Mark Figueroa is set to depart from Lewis & Clark on Dec. 3. Figueroa started his career at LC in 2011 as the Director of Institutional Research, but has shifted roles many times over the last ten years.
Figueroa stepped into his current role as dean of equity and inclusion in the summer of 2019, taking the place of LC Law Professor Janet Steverson, who had held the position since 2016.
According to an interview conducted by The Source in 2019, Figueroa took the job in order to move equity and inclusion issues to the forefront of conversations on campus.
“I am eager to move forward into a more visible leadership role on critical issues of equity and inclusion at LC,” Figueroa said. “Over the last eight years, I have learned a great deal about our institutional culture. Relationships matter so much. I see many opportunities for us to continue to work together to make this place a more truly safe, welcoming and equitable learning community.”
Two years later, Figueroa is witnessing those changes he worked so hard to promote, both in hiring processes and conversations about diversity taking place at LC.
“Our track record in the last two years has been pretty phenomenal,” Figueroa said. “Especially for a liberal arts college like ours to have the level of diversity we do within our search pools speaks volumes to the amount of work that we’ve done working with search committees, and the work that they’ve done to try to build those pools and cast the net. And where I see the impact the most is other people are talking about these issues, as regular matter of fact business.”
One of Figueroa’s first tasks as dean was to recruit a full time associate dean of equity and inclusion, which he did within nine months of taking over the job. Figueroa hired Casey Bieberich for this role, as well as Title IX coordinator, in March 2020. Bieberich has benefited greatly from Figueroa’s leadership and standing in the community, despite starting the role during the pandemic.
“I have primarily met people through Zoom and am slowly getting to know people more this year,” Bieberich said. “Mark is a hugely supportive and flexible person who is very comfortable with change and uncertainty. And I think we have benefited from relationships that he has built over time, a lot of equity work gets really relationship and culture-based, which takes a lot of spending time with people and getting to know (them) and their motivations and what they care about.”
Figueroa’s position as dean is currently half-time to allow him to fulfill all of his other roles. However, the future of what the position will look like is currently up in the air.
“Even if (the position of dean of equity and inclusion) was two full time jobs, there’s not enough time to attend to everything that people need,” Figueroa said. “Could more time and attention have been paid to more things? Yes, but I will say the COVID-19 interruption really threw everything for a loop. So I think moving forward, the nature of this position and how it gets configured, might need to be different.”
Bieberich hopes that the office can long term support someone whose sole focus is institutional equity.
“We all bring our own lived experience, or identities, our own focus to this kind of work,” Bieberich said. “But to have an office that focuses on the institution as a whole … that requires a lot of coordination, organization planning and documentation. And that is all a focus that I hope will continue and be more firm in the future.”
Whoever takes over any, or all, of Figueroa’s roles will be an integral part of the LC community, and play a role in the
operations of many offices. Director of the Center for Social Change and Community Involvement Dr. Kayleigh McCauley-Sayer is excited to work with the new Dean of Equity and Inclusion to further her office’s mission.
“The successor will be a key partner for the Center … particularly in the area of social change,” McCauley-Sayer said via email. “I am eager to learn about the plans to fill his positions, as are many who are invested in equity and inclusion here at the college.”
Upon his departure from LC, Figueroa will return home to California to spend more time with his extended family. He will also take on a new role as vice president for planning and development at Moreno Valley College.
“The position I’m moving into is exactly the next step in my career trajectory,” Figueroa said. “I want to work in a community college and serve that community that I was part of for a really long time.”
While the new iteration of Figueroa’s position will not be hired until early next year, the office is developing a plan to move forward in the interim. Bieberich says she would be happy to take on Figueroa’s responsibilities if she was asked, but that is not her main concern.
“I think we will figure out an interim plan for the next however many months,” Bieberich said. “And though that can be focused on some pretty concrete goals, like departmental, institutional goals, I am much more interested in long term hiring for a permanent position like a dean of Equity and Inclusion.”
Figueroa and Bieberich both agree that the next dean will likely be a person of color, but for different reasons. Bieberich believes that it would be extremely challenging for a white person to be able to check all the necessary boxes the position requires.
“I think it is hard to find a person who is white, regardless of all the lived experience of other types of oppression, who really gets at a fundamental level what it is like to live in this country with the experience of systemic and institutional racism,” Bieberich said.
On the other hand, Figueroa believes that a person of color will likely take over his job because it is an expectation that a position like dean of equity and inclusion will be filled by a person of color, but that it does not necessarily have to be.
“Just because it’s a person of color doesn’t mean you’re going to get what you think you’re going to get,” Figueroa said. “I mean, that’s a stereotype to think that a person of color would be better than a non- person of color. I don’t necessarily buy that. I think that the expectation
is that that is what it’s going to be. But if there’s somebody who brings everything that we need and isn’t a person of color, but understands and knows and has been part of that lived experience with those communities, and understands it from that perspective, that could work as well.”
Regardless of who takes over the position, Figueroa emphasized that it is not about the person, but about the work. As long as the equity and diversity work continues at the pace it has been over the past two years, he will be pleased with his successor.
“When people leave campuses, we have to remember that our job is not to replace that person, (it) is to find a way to fill the need that the college has now,” Figueroa said.