UWEC Appoints New Interim Leaders for Equity, Diversity Division
after a tumultuous year for EDI division, longtime university faculty step into interim posts
UW-Eau Claire has endured a notable amount of turnover in its Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) division in the past year, culminating in the departure of Olga Diaz, the division’s former vice chancellor, in September. In mid-November, the university announced it has filled two interim EDI leadership positions.
Teresa O’Halloran, previously director of affirmative action and Title IX coordinator, was appointed interim assistant chancellor for EDI, while Dr. Selika Ducksworth-Lawton is set to begin a new role as interim executive director for EDI engagement following the conclusion of her fall semester teaching duties.
The appointments were made by Chancellor James Schmidt with support from an advisory review team made up of faculty, staff, and students, including members of the EDISA (EDI + Student Affairs) division. O’Halloran and Ducksworth-Lawton collectively hold decades’ worth of experience at UWEC: O’Halloran first joined the university in 2006, and Ducksworth-Lawton has nearly 30 years of experience as a campus and community leader in both academic and EDI-related efforts.
“Our priority for this interim period of 18 months is to reaffirm our commitment to eliminating the opportunity gap for our students of color and other underrepresented groups.”
UW-EAU CLAIRE CHANCELLOR
“Our priority for this interim period of 18 months is to reaffirm our commitment to eliminating the opportunity gap for our students of color and other underrepresented groups,” Schmidt said. “Secondly, it is essential that all of us are working to provide our students with the level of cultural competence that they must have to be successful in their future communities and careers.”
O’Halloran will fill the assistant chancellor role through summer 2024 and will form a new EDI Advisory Council broadly representing the campus constituents and offering counsel to the division, lead EDI conversations and foster working partnerships, and will serve on the chancellor’s executive team while also reporting to Schmidt, among other duties.
Her main focus right now is establishing a cross-divisional EDI Advisory Council that will offer counsel and support for EDI initiatives across campus, made up of faculty, staff, and students. This advisory team is something Schmidt was aware current faculty and stuff request the EDI division implement, and O’Halloran is set to chair it.
“The chancellor has said to me over and over again, ‘You understand faculty, you respect faculty, (and) faculty respect you,’” O’Halloran said. “I don’t want to be a blank slate. I feel like there’s been a lot of work and thinking done already about what our initiatives are going to be, so I really want to support what we’re doing already. I will definitely be trying to bring everybody together and service our students, but also faculty and staff success, and retention of our faculty and staff.”
O’Halloran will retain oversight of and continue the more diversity-focused duties in the affirmative action area as well as her Title IX Coordinator position, with the human resources department transitioning in to further support those areas while she moves into the interim role, she said.
Similarly, Ducksworth-Lawton, also a history professor, will also join the chancellor’s executive team and will support faculty engagement in meeting campus EDI goals, supervise the Center for EDI Training, Development and Education, and the Center for Racial and Restorative Justice. She will also be liaison to Academic Affairs for those units and will report to O’Halloran.
Both O’Halloran and Ducksworth-Lawton were approached by peers to fill the EDI roles. O’Halloran previously served in the interim vice chancellor position in EDI during spring 2021, and Ducksworth-Lawton a well-respected force among faculty and staff, and the community.
The duo have collaborated numerous times during their years at UWEC, and in their new roles, are hoping to offer stability and synergetic leadership.
“I had faculty approach me to apply. They really wanted to make sure there was a faculty voice in the room. I feel like I owe it to them, for their faith in me, to do this,” Ducksworth-Lawton said. She will continue teaching one upper-division class per semester to continue serving the history department while filling the interim role.
WHAT WE ASK FOR, WE MUST BE ABLE TO GIVE TO OTHERS.
DR. SELIKA DUCKSWORTH-LAWTON
uwec professor and interim executive director of edi engagement
“I’d like to focus on disability rights, for us to do training in de-escalation – especially in the classroom – critical intervention, (and) threat assessment, but I also want to work with the university centers and groups on this idea of what civility looks like; without freezing free speech, what a critique looks like and what bullying looks like. I want to stress that it does not matter who you are, you will not be allowed to bully other people,” Ducksworth-Lawton said. “What we ask for, we must be able to give to others.”
Ducksworth-Lawton also said one important goal of the EDI division is to bring “crucial conversations” to campus, something Jodi Thesing-Ritter, director of the Center for EDI Training, Development and Education, has already been working on.
In the EDI engagement role, Ducksworth-Lawton is aiming to bridge the university community to the Eau Claire and outside communities, building educational and city-wide ties.
“I’ve got this idea to recreate dialogue across the university (and) the community that talks about, what does respect look like; what does feeling respected look like; what does giving respect look like; what does respecting other groups look like; and what indicates a lack of respect.”
By filling the interim EDI leadership roles with O’Halloran and Ducksworth-Lawton, the university will continue to work towards its various EDI goals, further outlined in its EDI Strategic Plan and The 2025 University Strategic Plan.
Visit the university's Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Student Affairs (EDISA) division’s website for more information.