Anthony Arnone | November 02, 2021
Meet Our New Chief Diversity Officer
Damita Davis joined SUNY Brockport as the new Chief Diversity Officer on July 1, 2021, with the intent to help foster a change in the community’s culture for the better.
Damita Davis has a long history with higher education, dating back to her time as an undergraduate student at The University of Rhode Island (URI) where she was a member of the Women’s Center and Student Judicial Board.
During her first year, students were to protesting on-campus against police profiling of black and latino men and a need to diversify the curriculum to include an African and African American studies degree. A moment in her past that would ignite a passion in Davis that she turned into a career.
“Many of the student leaders in that movement lived in the same residence hall as I did and as I learned more and more about the issues, I knew something needed to be done and I needed to be involved,” Davis said. “It was there that the bug of ‘how can I help make the college experience better for students of color’ was planted.”
It was there that the bug of ‘how can I help make the college experience better for students of color’ was planted.
Davis graduated in 1997, and after a brief stint working at Fleet Mortgage, she returned to URI as a graduate student to pursue a career in Student Affairs. While working as a Graduate Hall Director, she was faced with her first – and potentially most challenging – experience. The tragedy of September 11, 2001.
“A lot of our students were from the New York and New Jersey area and had family members and friends connected to the towers and they were trying to find them and learn more about what was going on,” Davis said. “The entire campus needed to shift its focus to support our students, faculty, and staff with locating their loved ones. While I was busy helping others, I needed to balance my own concern for my cousin who was at the Pentagon that day.”
One year later, Davis was hired as the Assistant Director for Student Activities and Multicultural Programs at Emmanuel College in Boston where she spent 12 years working in student affairs, solidifying her passion to work on equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) within higher education.
“I got a crash course at Emmanuel, working with athletics, residence life, counseling, and more,” Davis said. “It played a role in shaping the approach to my work now, helping me become a generalist and solidifying that I want to work with students.”
Davis eventually moved on to Boston College where she worked in Human Resources’ Office for Institutional Diversity. She learned about the relationship between EDI and institutions at an administrative level, focusing largely on retention, promotion, and bias issues for the university’s workforce. A recruiter from SUNY Brockport reached out to Davis about an opening for Chief Diversity Officer (CDO).
“I could tell a lot of thought went into the job description. They really thought about what the person in this role needs to do, what the skill set needs to be, and how can they help with their EDI efforts,” Davis said. “It was clear they wanted someone to come in to shift the culture and they were open to know what they could do better.”
Davis is currently serving her first semester as CDO; balancing the shift from a medium-sized, private institution in a city to a publicly funded state institution in western New York.
“It has been interesting because I am still in a learning process; learning about the community, the culture,” Davis said. “My focus has been on stabilizing the department and focusing on structural and procedural processes moving forward while strengthening the relationship with my office across the institution.”
As Davis acclimates to SUNY Brockport, she has made it clear her intention is to strengthen the community and institution as a whole. As she begins to get a “pulse” on the SUNY Brockport community, she plans to move forward with her initiatives to serve our faculty, staff, and students.
“I am here to serve the institution - our faculty, staff, students, and alums,” Davis said. “My approach will always be to do what is in the best interest of the institution because once the institution succeeds, everyone else involved will as well.”
“When I think of Damita Davis and how she works, my first thought is partnership. She takes her role as a leader on campus and as an institutional partner seriously. She asks, ‘How can we do better?’ or ‘What can we do differently?’ Her inclusive process is exactly what Brockport needs. I think we’re already seeing the benefits of her collaborative approach and I look forward to continuing to benefit from her leadership and expertise in the years ahead.”
President Heidi Macpherson