Danielle Torres, previously an associate professor at the graduate campus, became dean of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) on Aug. 15.
Torres came to the college in 2004 as faculty and served as school counseling program co-director from 2005 to 2012. Lewis & Clark announced she would become the new dean of DEI on May 23. Moving into her new position, Torres is bringing knowledge from her background as part of a working class Mexican American family in a small agricultural community in Southern California.
“I’m really looking for a new and challenging new step in my career,” Torres said. “I was excited when this job opening presented itself, because I think it really marries what my professional and personal identity brings.”
Additionally, Torres has spent most of her time in higher education in predominantly white institutions, such as LC. She has been concious of this during her academic career, focusing her research in these spaces on school supports for BIPOC and undocumented students, as well as dismantling barriers in women’s careers.
At the time of her appointment, former President Wim Wiewel acknowledged her professional experience and its relation to her upcoming role.
“I am delighted that Dr. Torres has agreed to take on this new role,” Wiewel said to the Source. “She has a long history of dedication to equity and social justice — and to the people and core values of Lewis & Clark.”
Previously, Title IX Coordinator Casey Bieberich served as the Interim DEI dean in addition to her other responsibilities. Bieberich was initially intended to resume her coordinator role, however on Aug. 5 President Robin Holmes-Sullivan announced Bieberich would be leaving on Aug. 8.
“Nothing is more important than the work we do here at Lewis & Clark to ensure everyone feels included and valued,” Homes-Sullivan said to the Source. “Casey has been a leader in that work and I am very grateful for that. We wish her the very best in her future endeavors.”
Mark Figueroa, who left LC in November 2021, was the last permanent dean of equity and inclusion. The position has since been expanded from part-time to full-time with the hiring of Torres. Besides interns, the Office of Equity and Inclusion (OEI) has only one other staff member, Program Director Jaime Cale.
“It’ll be the first time we’ve had a full time dean just for DEI work,” Cale said. “I believe that we really can take a system-wide look at some of our policies and procedures and make sure that everything we’re doing on campus — all three of them — have an equity lens.”
Cale said she was disappointed that LC did not choose to do an external search for the DEI dean, only looking internally for candidates. However, Cale is ultimately happy with the choice.
“Danielle exudes kindness and empathy,” Cale said. “… I haven’t had a ton of time with her, but you can just tell she’s very empathetic and compassionate.”
During the Spring 2022 semester Torres was on sabbatical while pursuing this job opportunity. She also was on the search committee for the president. According to Torres, the rest she got on sabbatical and the inside from the search committee primed her for her current position.
Torres said the role requires coming in rested because of its demands.
“DEI work has always been challenging,” Torres said. “Because I think in some ways, you are the person within any institution – whether that’s an organization, a company, a community – where you are speaking for historically … a minority group. That can be difficult because you may feel outnumbered.”
For both Cale and Torres, the new structuring of OEI is significant. Now, two women of color are heading the OEI at the same time the college has its first Black woman as president. Additionally, the new Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students Evette Castillo Clark is also a woman of color who has over 30 years of DEI experience.
“When I started here 17 years ago, I could only wish that this is what the leadership of Lewis & Clark looked like,” Torres said. “I just smile when I wake up every day now to know that this is the reality.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story previously misidentified Mark Figueroa.