Bennington College seeks a dynamic and transformative leader, skilled administrator, and authentically collaborative campus partner to serve as its next vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion and college diversity officer. The expected start date is summer 2021.
Bennington is an innovative and distinguished residential liberal arts college that has, since its founding in 1932, been a laboratory for new ideas and an intellectual home to countless artists, activists, and thinkers who have shaped contemporary culture. The college was the first to include the visual and performing arts in a liberal arts education, and it is the only college to require that its students spend a term—every year—at work in the world. Bennington’s nearly 800 students (697 undergraduate and 102 graduate) work intensively with 124 faculty to forge individualized and hands-on educational paths around their driving questions and interests. These endeavors are supported by Bennington’s 195 full-time and 20 part-time staff members.
Situated on 440 breathtaking acres in Bennington, Vermont, the campus is known for its expansive beauty, distinctive architecture, and rich history. Bennington was named one of ten college campuses with the best architecture by Architectural Digest. From campus, it is a short drive to MASS MoCA, Clark Art Institute, and other cultural offerings of the northern Berkshires in Massachusetts; Albany, New York; and many of Vermont’s top recreational centers. New York City, Boston, and Burlington, Vermont are all within three and a half hours by car.
Bennington comprises a diverse population including BIPOC students, faculty, staff, and alums; international students; and persons of diverse gender expressions, sexualities, and socio-economic statuses. All employees are expected to be respectful and responsive to these differences in the service of building community that promotes student and employee success. Each individual (faculty, staff, and students) is accountable for upholding these values. The college’s approach to pluralism and inclusivity—both as fields of inquiry and practice—is to prioritize flexible thought and to invite the examination of access, value, and power through its institutional policies and areas of study as it continues to invest in diversifying the faculty, staff, and student body to include fullest possible range of knowledge and experiences in the community.
Bennington has come together in recent months to begin the work of creating forms of teaching and learning that model what a truly equitable, diverse, and inclusive institution of higher education can be. President Laura Walker has established a President’s Working Group to create an actively anti-racist community with students, faculty, staff, alums, and board members. The important work of this task force will be to create an action plan for the future as Bennington continues to engage and inspire more voices, more experiences, and more points of view.
Learn more about the President’s Working Group at https://www.bennington.edu/presidents-working-group.
Statement on Pluralism, Inclusion, and Equity
Bennington College affirms the intersecting identities of all its community members – students, faculty, staff, and alumni – and recognizes their contributions to the vitality of its unique living and learning environment. The college’s approach to pluralism and inclusivity – both as fields of inquiry and practice – is to prioritize flexible thought and to invite the examination of access, value, and power through its institutional policies and areas of study.
This vision statement is meant to be a catalyst for dialogue and debate. The faculty, students, and staff who drafted this statement recognize that engaging the important questions of equity, inclusion, and pluralism must entail a commitment to continued learning and practice for both individuals and the college so that Bennington can fulfill its institutional mission and continue to be a pioneer in the area of progressive higher education. The goal is to approach these questions, as they exist and manifest themselves on campus, with consistency, flexibility, imagination, and a commitment to social justice. This vision is guided by the following premises:
- A commitment to pluralism—an approach that recognizes multiplicity as a starting point. Bennington recognizes that diversity, as it is generally understood, can inadvertently center the dominant paradigm in its “allowance” for “other” perspectives.
- A commitment to affirming staff and alumni as active contributors to Bennington’s intellectual and social environment.
- A commitment to pursuing and cultivating climates and environments in which imaginative and disciplined thought is valued.
- An enthusiastic acknowledgment that these questions and the accompanying recommendations are fluid, and thus any agenda aimed at developing pluralism, inclusion, and equity must be adaptable and ongoing.
The college’s use of “inclusion” points to institutional policies and practices that contribute to the increase of efficacy and ownership for individuals in their campus roles. “Equity” points toward resources (broadly defined) being (re)distributed to groups and individuals as needed in order for them to thrive in their campus role. The college understands that the term “diversity” can unintentionally center dominant paradigms, ideologies, and practices; whereas “pluralism” is fundamentally premised on multiplicity and variety as a starting point. When “diversity” is used, it refers to the field’s umbrella of thought, practice, and policy.
Role of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and College Diversity Officer for Bennington College
Reporting to President Walker and serving as a member of her executive leadership team, the vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion and college diversity officer (CDO) will provide strategic guidance and serve as a thought leader and partner supporting the president’s steadfast commitment to rigorous and ongoing examinations of curricular and co-curricular offerings, institutional rules and norms, shared governance, pedagogy, and access to resources that are necessary to become an anti-racist, inclusive, and equitable institution. The CDO will actively engage in dialogue with students in an effort to identify, understand, and respond to their evolving needs and will work closely with the president’s executive team to proactively develop and implement policies, plans, programs, and activities that both educate and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as core values of the college.
This senior leader will work with the President’s Working Group to enact a more diverse and inclusive future for Bennington that is actively addressing and confronting racism and exploring the intersections with gender, race, ethnicity, ability, socioeconomic status, and other vectors of identity and positionality. The CDO will also work with other DEI-focused entities to provide an overarching vision and guidance for their efforts and harness their impact to create a transformative and compelling campus agenda. This mandate requires a highly collaborative leader who approaches their work through systems-level thinking. The successful candidate will have a thorough understanding of best practices in the field, and the flexibility and imagination to meet the particular challenges facing one of the leading liberal arts colleges in the country.
The CDO will also respond to emerging issues, ideas, and challenges and think strategically with the president, provost, and other members of the senior team about how best to position Bennington in the decade ahead. While the role has a campus-spanning sphere of influence over many aspects of the Bennington community, there is also acknowledgment that no individual can or should shoulder the entirety of the college’s antiracism and DEI efforts. Working closely with all community stakeholders, the CDO will participate in initiating and supporting data-informed activities to identify where improvement is needed for the Bennington student experience; faculty and staff recruitment, development, and retention; expanding Bennington’s pool of prospective students; and ensuring momentum and progress in creating an equitable and inclusive campus community. The position is supported by an administrative assistant and two student interns.
History of the Position
Lydia Brassard served as director of institutional equity and inclusion from fall 2015 until fall 2017. Beginning in July 2018, the position was elevated to a vice president for institutional inclusion, equity and leadership development and Delia Saenz assumed the role. Saenz accepted the position of Chief Diversity Officer of the College at Arizona State University beginning in January 2021.
Opportunities and Challenges of the Role
Initial priorities for the CDO, as articulated by Bennington community members, are as follows:
Serve as a trusted member of the president’s senior leadership team
Bennington is inclined towards a highly collaborative and distributed leadership model for advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion. The successful candidate will report directly to the president, join the senior leadership team, and earn the trust and confidence of the campus community. In collaboration with colleagues on the executive team, the CDO will ensure that the college’s DEI priorities, and accompanying accountabilities, are interwoven throughout the college’s policies, practices, and strategic initiatives.
Lead with creativity and vision
The new CDO will contribute to the college’s strategic discussions and planning. The individual will advise the president on strategic and institutional decisions, particularly as they relate to advancing Bennington’s stated commitments to anti-racism, diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. The CDO will possess a deep understanding of various DEI frameworks to contribute to senior-leadership conversations at an organizational level and will be expected to pose challenging questions and suggest insightful solutions on difficult topics in order to stimulate the very best thinking at the college.
Develop a DEI strategic/action plan and execute it
Bennington is in the early stages of discussing a strategic planning process that positions diversity, equity, and inclusion as top priorities throughout the college’s policies, practices, and initiatives. The CDO will play a critical role in this process and will provide leadership to the implementation process, particularly as related to those elements of the plan that advance Bennington’s DEI goals. If appropriate, the CDO will craft an accompanying DEI action plan. The successful candidate will make recommendations on building the capacity of the campus community and its offices to understand how their efforts connect back to the plan in meaningful and measurable ways. This might entail, for example, formulating policy, evaluating progress, identifying opportunities, and locating areas of concern across the campus.
Serve as a well-connected and collaborative campus partner
The work of the CDO will be accomplished through influence and relationship building, as well as the formal authorities of the role. To succeed in this environment, the CDO must build relationships that generate support for the work of the office by developing strong partnerships across the college with student leaders, faculty, staff, and administrators. Earning the confidence and respect of students, the successful candidate will be a visible and accessible presence on campus. The CDO will also be expected to establish collaborative relationships with local and regional external stakeholders.
Lead a team to foster an inclusive campus
This new leader will have a systems-level perspective and a commitment to creating a strong culture of self-assessment and data-gathering at the college. The CDO will generate ideas and initiatives for assessing, understanding, and improving the campus climate. To this end, this individual will develop or use tools and surveys to gauge the experience of campus stakeholders and the effectiveness of initiatives to create a more inclusive community. The CDO will partner with colleagues in the research, planning and assessment office to collect, interpret, and disseminate data related to the campus climate to educate the Bennington community on its most pressing issues.
Review, evaluate, and propose policies and procedures
The CDO will partner with the appropriate campus colleagues to review policies and practices and to provide recommendations about strengthening Bennington’s ability to address incidents of bias and discrimination. The CDO will partner with the Title IX team and other key leaders on educating the community about these issues. The college has a demonstrated commitment to fostering an educational environment free of discrimination and is in the midst of reviewing its bias incident reporting system and anti-harassment policies.
Measures of Success
The vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion will work with the president to determine specific measures of success and their respective timetables. The search committee offers the following general metrics for the position:
- strong and collaborative working relationships with the president, her senior leadership team, faculty leadership, and the Board of Trustees;
- establishment of a clear leadership role within the President’s Working Group;
- evidence of greater awareness and understanding of the college’s anti-racist goals and commitments by the Bennington community;
- adoption of a mission-aligned DEI framework that will guide the strategic work of the office and the college, resulting in improved experiences for students, faculty, staff, and alums;
- increased accessibility to and awareness among the campus community of the full range of Bennington’s DEI initiatives, supports, and resources;
- positive relationships with Bennington students, faculty, staff, and alumni that are characterized by trust and confidence;
- development and administration of a comprehensive campus climate survey to identify key priorities and support the crafting and implementation of a DEI action plan.
Qualifications and Characteristics
This position is an exceptional opportunity for a leader with a documented record of success in developing and advancing organizational diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies and initiatives. A master’s degree in an appropriate area of specialization with a minimum of seven years of experience leading organizational-level DEI initiatives in higher education or mission-focused organizations is required.
Bennington College seeks candidates whose professional, educational, and lived experiences have together prepared them to serve as an effective and collaborative leader of the college’s efforts to create a community that is actively committed to anti-racism. The ideal candidate will be an accomplished DEI leader and versatile manager with both strategic and tactical capacity, outstanding communication skills, deep understanding of intersectionality, and a genuine conviction for the mission and values of Bennington. The search committee encourages applicants from diverse areas of interest, backgrounds, experience, and accomplishment to apply.
Further, Bennington stakeholders indicated that the next CDO should ideally be someone who:
- is able to balance being an active listener with being action oriented;
- has the skills to engage and educate at both the individual and group level;
- is responsive to students’ concerns;
- has the confidence, acumen, and emotional intelligence to be a strategic partner to the president;
- is skilled in facilitating difficult conversations;
- demonstrates a deep understanding of intersectionality in their communication and leadership;
- is comfortable with moving between strategic and hands-on leadership;
- is adept at building trust and navigating multiple relationships;
- can take the institutional view and appreciate being part of a team;
- is tenacious in working through obstacles to the work of the CDO.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Bennington College
The office of diversity, equity, and inclusion was created in 2015 as part of the college’s commitment to developing a comprehensive infrastructure for the advancement of inclusion, equity, and pluralism at Bennington. Strategically situated within the office of the president, the office collaborates with students, faculty, and staff at Bennington to advance the college’s DEI priorities and to support and amplify the myriad initiatives and activities that are in various stages of implementation across the campus.
Recent notable priorities and initiatives include:
- the creation of Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) student intern positions;
- planning and implementation of the 2020 Social Practice of Inclusion student conference;
- launch of a process to develop an online bias incident reporting system;
- updating of the college’s policy on addressing harassment and discrimination (in progress);
- training for campus stakeholders on culturally responsive search processes;
- proposal for certificate in diversity program for Bennington students, faculty, and staff (in progress).
Bennington College: An Overview
In the early 1920s, Bennington College emerged as an idea shared by a group of forward-thinking educators and civic leaders who believed that America needed a progressive new college to forge a new direction in higher education. In 1932, with charter and land secured, the college welcomed its first class of 87 women and this idea was given life. The college became co-ed in 1969 and is still flourishing eighty-eight years since its founding.
It did not take long for Bennington to distinguish itself as a vanguard institution among American colleges and universities. Dancers flocked to the college in the 1930s and ’40s to chart the course of modern dance. In the 1940s and ’50s, as Bennington was the first college to include the visual and performing arts as an equal partner in the liberal arts curriculum, painters and sculptors gathered on its campus to redefine the visual arts canon. Always a fertile ground for writers, the 1980s and ’90s saw an influx of young talent eager to push the boundaries of contemporary literature. Today, Bennington is still a hub for artists, writers, scientists, scholars—innovators in every field—who want to apply their individual talents to addressing global issues of urgent concern.
The underlying purpose of Bennington has been clear from the start: to place students at the helm of their own education; to guide them in the direction of their greatest potential; and to enlarge, deepen, and transform their lives. Through a genuinely distinctive education, Bennington cultivates a mindset for change, a capacity to break new ground, and the conditions for progress.
The Bennington Commencement Statement
“Bennington regards education as a sensual and ethical, no less than an intellectual, process. It seeks to liberate and nurture the individuality, the creative intelligence, and the ethical and aesthetic sensibility of its students, to the end that their richly varied natural endowments will be directed toward self-fulfillment and toward constructive social purposes. We believe that these educational goals are best served by demanding of our students active participation in the planning of their own programs and in the regulation of their own lives on campus. Student freedom is not the absence of restraint, however; it is rather the fullest possible substitution of habits of self-restraint for restraint imposed by others. The exercise of student freedom is the very condition of a meaningful education and an essential aspect of the nurture of free citizens dedicated to civilized values and capable of creative and constructive membership in modern society.”
Tucked into the southwest corner of Vermont, Bennington is a beautiful town of 15,000-plus people situated at the foot of the Green Mountains. It offers an exceptional experience for those who want a small-town atmosphere coupled with proximity to major metropolitan areas. The downtown area is noted for its historically preserved architecture, outdoor seasonal dining, locally owned shops, cafés, Memorial Fountain Park, antique shops, and river walk.
Bennington is within an hour of some of the best hiking and skiing in the Northeast. Access to the Long Trail, Vermont’s oldest long-distance hiking trail, is a short walk from campus. There is trout fishing on nearby Walloomsac River and camping and swimming on Lake Paran. Bennington is an hour from the Albany International Airport and Amtrak station, twenty-five minutes from Williamstown, North Adams (home to the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute), the Williamstown Theatre Festival, and MASS MoCA. The cultural resources of the Berkshires, including Jacob’s Pillow dance school, Tanglewood, and Shakespeare and Company are just over an hour away. Bennington is a three-hour drive from both New York City and Boston.
Laura Walker, President
Laura R. Walker took office as the 11th president of Bennington College on August 1, 2020. Prior to this appointment, she was the president and CEO of New York Public Radio (NYPR), a position that she held for 23 years.
Walker is a visionary, mission-oriented, strategic leader who spearheaded the transformation of NYPR into the nation’s largest independent non-profit public radio station group and a groundbreaking producer that serves more than 26 million people each month. Walker’s vision of fearless journalism that represents the breadth of American experiences helped establish the station’s role as one of the world’s preeminent podcast producers. During her tenure, NYPR was awarded ten George Foster Peabody awards and many other honors.
Behind NYPR’s superlative journalism was a sound and strategic long-term financial model. With regular reexaminations of the media landscape, NYPR was able to consistently adapt to shifting trends and stay ahead of challenges on the horizon. Walker led three separate five-year plan processes at NYPR, translating goals into executable tactics for program production, fundraising, and partnership-building. One measure of that success is the organization’s extraordinary growth from two city-owned radio stations with an $8 million budget and 1 million monthly listeners to an independent nonprofit with a $100 million annual budget, 26 million monthly listeners on 8 radio stations, 20 nationally distributed programs, and a staff of 500. Following her time at NYPR, she was an Executive Fellow in Residence at the Yale School of Management and an advisor to media startups and nonprofits. Walker sits on the boards of The Commonwealth Fund, the Eagle Picher Trust, Yale University’s Honorary Degree Committee, and the President’s Advisory Council of Wesleyan University.
In 2009 and again in 2017, Walker was named by Crain’s as one of New York City’s 50 Most Powerful Women. She has been honored with an Edward R. Murrow Award from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. She was recognized in May 2020 with the honorable Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Award by the Municipal Arts Society for her notable contribution to the public media landscape.
Walker holds an MBA from the Yale School of Management and a BA in History, magna cum laude, from Wesleyan University, where she was an Olin Scholar.
Academic Programs and Faculty
Bennington College distinguished itself early as a vanguard institution within American higher education. At Bennington, learning and making are inseparable. The faculty are committed not just intellectually, but also as leading practitioners in their fields. Students develop ideas in the classroom and then test those ideas where it counts—through hands-on work in the world. The result is a learning experience free of artificial barriers where students imagine, shape, and pursue their best work.
Bennington graduates are notably confident in their capacity to engage and succeed in the world because at Bennington, learning and making—on campus and in the field—are inseparable. Three structures make this possible and set a Bennington education apart:
- First, graduate-style academic advising allows students to map a territory for study and practice that goes beyond the bounds of a traditional major and serves them at Bennington and after graduation, a process known as The Plan. Students work closely with an advisory committee of three faculty to guide their progress over four years and to ensure that their Plan is challenging, academically sound, and significant. By building, articulating, and advocating for the substance of their education, Bennington students hone their ability to thrive in a world without givens, to tolerate ambiguity, and to see clear to a solution even when a path is not laid out before them.
- Second, Bennington is the only college in the country to require an annual internship since its founding. For six weeks each year, students work with an organization or institution of their choosing, anywhere in the world, to apply what they have learned on campus and to focus what they study and make at Bennington. In this way, students join the field that interests them without waiting for graduation.
- Third, Bennington is a highly engaged community of active makers and practitioners, regardless of their field. The faculty and administration are mentors and peers ready to engage with students’ work in addition to being subject matter experts.
In addition to the bachelor of arts degree, Bennington offers an MFA in dance, low-residency MFAs in writing and public action, and a post-baccalaureate premedical program. With 61 full-time and 63 part-time faculty, Bennington’s teacher-practitioner model is an essential component of the college’s mission: scientists, scholars, writers, and artists, active in their fields, develop and share their work with students in the classroom. From lab assistance in faculty research to performance projects as a prelude to professional productions, students encounter faculty members’ professional activities in multiple ways.
Bennington students are expected to study broadly, exploring a range of questions and modes of inquiry and progressing to advanced work in at least one area of study. Faculty, conversely, engage students in their own work, but within the context of a wide-ranging liberal arts education. Academic advising, interdisciplinary initiatives, and long-range curricular planning, among other activities, constitute each faculty member’s participation in the development of college-wide goals and policies. Faculty discipline groups assume many essential administrative functions, including oversight of guest speaker series, production and capital expense budgets, faculty searches, curricular development, and review of graduate applicants, where appropriate.
Central to Bennington’s founding vision was the belief that a dynamic, relevant education could best be achieved when students themselves define its direction. Further, the college envisioned that students, as a result of such purposeful self-reliance, would take with them when they graduated not only what they had learned but also the way in which they had learned it. What began as a conviction has been continuously verified over time as the college has grown, resulting in an increasingly intensified intellectual and artistic trajectory for its students.
The Plan process is essentially the soul of a Bennington education and can be seen as a theoretical map drawn by every student with the aim of reaching an identified curricular destination. This destination often changes, sometimes slightly, sometimes significantly, as students identify more enriching routes of scholarly and artistic discovery. When such redirections occur, the map is re-drawn, the Plan revised. The oversight and assessment of each student’s respective Plan at Bennington is multi-faceted and broad. It includes individual faculty members, an advisor, a Plan committee, and faculty from the disciplines that make up the student’s declared areas of study.
With their Plans as aids and reference, Bennington students progressively formulate the questions that drive their areas of study, with the aim of bringing them to fruition in sophisticated work. The process assumes that meaningful learning works best when rooted in a student’s ever-expanding curiosity, rather than being imposed by following entrenched institutional paths. Internal sources of order replace external templates as students, in consultation with faculty, design the content, structure, and sequence of their curricula, taking full advantage of the college’s varied resources.
In devising and implementing a Plan, students are asked to write and rewrite a series of prospective and reflective essays that form the basis of their ongoing discussions with faculty advisors and Plan committees. These focused narratives not only require them to detail their academic goals and strategies, but also to describe their commitment to and deepening immersion in their studies and the degree of progress toward their aims.
Bennington College offers the following comprehensive and competitive benefits to employees:
- Medical Insurance
- Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
- Dental Insurance
- Vision Insurance
- Life Insurance
- Voluntary Accident Insurance and Critical Illness Insurance
- Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
- Long Term Disability Insurance
- Short Term Disability Insurance (Union)
- Employee Reimbursement Accounts
- Statement of Domestic Partnership
- Retirement Plan
- Social Security and Medicare Resources
- Education Benefits
- Recreation Information
- Offers and Discounts for Bennington Faculty and Staff
For more information: https://www.bennington.edu/human-resources/benefits-information-and-forms
Review of applications will begin March 12, 2021 and continue until the position is filled. To apply for this position please click on the Apply button, complete the brief application process, and upload your resume and position-specific cover letter. Nominations for this position may be forwarded to Michel Frendian at email@example.com. Applicants needing reasonable accommodation to participate in the application process should contact Spelman Johnson at 413-529-2895.
Visit the Bennington College website at www.bennington.edu
Bennington College is committed to a policy of nondiscrimination as defined under applicable state and federal laws, including but not limited to Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities. The College does not discriminate in its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV test, or any other legally protected status.