After spending over a year searching for someone to serve as its first director of diversity, equity and inclusion, Penn State University Police and Public Safety selected Iris Richardson for the position two months ago.
Richardson, a Penn State alumna who held positions with the university’s Residence Life and Student Affairs departments for about 10 years, said she was drawn to the opening as soon as she heard about it, and knew despite it being a switch in her career path, the position would be a good opportunity to contribute her time and talents to create lasting change in the department.
“When I saw the posting for this position, I was excited,” Richardson said via email. “I said to myself, ‘Iris this is your time to share your love, passion and dedication for diversity with a department that you have grown to respect and support.’”
Richardson’s responsibilities as director include organizing department training, giving input on policies, managing recruitment, handling strategic communications and providing support surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives at University Park and the 22 Penn State commonwealth campuses.
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In order to accomplish these tasks, Richardson will be involved with the university’s Strategic Priority Team on Advancing Diversity and Inclusion in the Office of Finance and Business, as well as represent UPPS in external committees, including Community & Campus in Unity — a group that supports and celebrates diversity in State College.
Richardson added that she is not only in charge of engaging the department’s employees, but also listening to the “concerned public” to ensure community involvement in the changes being made.
Richardson said she is working with the Community Oriented Policing unit established by UPPS in 2018. The campus units’ designated officers have held meetings with faculty, staff and students to make sure everyone’s ideas are heard.
“It is important that we meet with our communities of color in their spaces and work through barriers while continuing to build relationships,” Richardson said.
In light of recent law enforcement reforms being made across the country, Richardson said the department is continuing efforts to enforce equality in its operations and interactions with the community, beginning centralization processes in 2017 to uniformly implement its policies across all of the Penn State campuses.
However, the department is still pushing to achieve greater levels of diversity by working on improving job descriptions to provide applicants with more information about the positions themselves and the areas in which they’re offered.
UPPS will also continue offering diversity training and attending career fairs in Pennsylvania, as well as surrounding states, to advertise its job openings on a larger scale. Richardson said the training will help the department’s employees increase their cultural awareness, better understand how to respond to people with mental illness and eliminate implicit bias.
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Despite the challenges of accomplishing these goals, Richardson said she and her colleagues believe the department’s initiatives will be successful, since she has seen them “working hard to make improvements” in the two months since she started her position.
“Not only has UPPS been working on changes and improvements for the past three years, but we — as leaders of the department — have all challenged and committed ourselves to be better and do better in this space,” Richardson said. “We know that actions speak louder than words.”
Emil Cunningham, the director for diversity and inclusion in the Office of Finance and Business, said the creation of Richardson’s position will help “drive University Police forward” and assist Penn State’s overarching goals of diversity, equity and inclusion.
“I think it’s an outward expression of an inward desire to constantly improve,” Cunningham said. “It’s one thing to say you stand with marginalized communities, and it’s another to put your money where your mouth is.”
Cunningham added that he is “glad to have [Richardson] as a partner” in the process of making these changes at Penn State.
Jenn Cruden, a public information officer with UPPS, said via email that the new position was envisioned and created by the department’s assistant vice president Charles Noffsinger. She added the department would “not be on this pathway” without his help.
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In a Penn State News press release, Noffsinger said the position was created to ensure actionable change in the department.
“We are excited to have Iris join the University Police and Public Safety leadership team,” Noffsinger said in the release. “Creating this position was a proactive decision because we remain committed to fostering a positive relationship with the community while also further developing internal programming and training.”
Richardson said although she is “fortunate to work for a department that the overwhelming majority of Penn Staters view as professional and helpful,” she feels it is important to take proactive measures and strive for improvement — because of this, the department is working on several initiatives that will be announced to the Penn State community soon.
Richardson said she is looking forward to learning more about policing, recruiting a more diverse team and building good relationships with the community, even though there may be challenges along the way.
“We know it’s never an easy hill to climb,” Richardson said, “but we are up for the challenge and look forward to a more diverse, equitable and inclusive environment — here and in society.”