Rénard Harris has been named associate vice president and chief diversity officer at the College of Charleston, President Glenn McConnell ’69 announced on Thursday, April 19, 2017.
Harris has been serving in these roles on an interim basis since August 2016 and is also an associate professor in the Department of Teacher Education, where he has taught since joining the College in 2005.
“Rénard and his team have continued and expanded the quality programming and hard work being done by this important campus office,” says McConnell. “His energy, collaborative approach and passion have been such tremendous assets to the College, its faculty, staff and students.”
Harris oversees the College’s Office of Institutional Diversity, which is responsible for creating and guiding programs and initiatives that promote diversity and inclusion on campus.
“We create opportunities to educate and inform the campus community about diverse topics and diverse issues,” Harris says. “However you identify yourself, however you express as an individual or group, we want the campus to know about that so we can give you room to be who you are.”
A native of Moss Point, Mississippi, Harris earned a doctorate in education from the University of Tennessee. He is well-known and highly respected on campus by colleagues and students alike.
At the College, he has helped steer a number of important campus committees and initiatives, including the Diversity Climate Survey Committee, the advisory committee to the African American Studies program, and the Student Affairs and Athletes Committee.
In addition, he is a mentor for the College’s SPECTRA program — which helps multicultural and first-generation students with the transition from high school to college — and a coordinator for the Call Me MISTER program, which recruits a diverse pool of future educators to address the critical shortage of African American male teachers.
Harris says he’s learned a great deal since his interim appointment last fall and has a better appreciation for the unique opportunities and challenges related to diversity at the College.
“When you talk about diversity, it’s hard just to purchase a package. It’s very personal for this campus, for another campus. They are very different,” he says. “So, as the chief diversity officer, I keep my eyes and ears open and am very aware and collaborate with others to find out what we need.”
Harris and his staff have already partnered with other campus offices to establish new programs. One, called Crossing the Cistern, is focused on retaining students of color so that they feel supported academically, valued as individuals and focused on the goal of graduation. Other recent initiatives from his office have concentrated on disability awareness, women’s history and black masculinity.
While initiating frank discussions on religion, sexuality, race and gender can be difficult, broaching sensitive topics in a more transparent way can also provide openings for dialogue and understanding, Harris says.
“We have to put it on the table and talk about race and these issues,” he says. “Not to hurt, harm or point the finger but to make progress, to work together to build through those. We need all colors and creeds on this campus because it has that space for it. We need this campus to look like a box of crayons.”