On Aug. 1, Kauline Cipriani will join President Joyce McConnell’s leadership team at Colorado State University as the new vice president for diversity and inclusion.
When Cipriani first left her home in Trinidad and Tobago to study in Texas, at Prairie View A&M University, she was on a track to become a medical doctor. A few years later, she arrived at Purdue University with her bachelor’s degree in hand (biology pre-med), and discovered she had an innate love of research. That detour led her to a master’s in microbiology and genetics, then a doctorate in food microbiology, winning multiple honors and recognitions for her work along the way.
So how did an award-winning scientist make the journey to the work of diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice?
Cipriani’s most recent position, as associate dean for inclusive excellence at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, is the culmination of a decision she made nearly 20 years ago to accept the position of assistant to the provost at Purdue. In it, she coordinated and launched the university’s first strategic plan for diversity and inclusion, and subsequently served in successive leadership positions focused on diversity, equity and inclusion.
“There wasn’t an epiphany,” she said. “I just came to a fork in the road. And definitely, after taking that job, I knew I was in the right place and doing the right thing. I saw I could really make the campus a different and better place for people who look like me and wanted to come there, whether they were students or faculty or staff members. So there’s no regret for leaving the lab.”
Cipriani is clearly passionate about what she does.
“Part of my joy in doing this comes from seeing the impact,” she said. “I’m very aware of what’s at stake when I do my work, and sometimes it can get overwhelming. But when I get a text or email from someone who has experienced the positive effect of working with a leader who wants to do this better and get it right — a chair or dean who becomes a diversity and inclusion champion — that reminds me you’re affecting an entire school, an entire college, an entire campus. And that reconfirms that this is where I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to be doing. So I’m joining Colorado State with joy and with anticipation and excitement for the future.”
“We are just thrilled to welcome Kauline to the leadership team of Colorado State University,” said President McConnell. “She is taking on this critical role with a track record of success wherever she’s been, and will be able to build on the excellent work done by her predecessor, Mary Ontiveros. We look forward to the experience, expertise and vision Kauline brings to CSU, along with the passion, energy, and warmth she’s shown as we’ve gotten to know her.”
Understanding the gaps
Although Cipriani has mostly moved on from her STEM roots, she’s still a big believer in the scientific method and using tools like focus groups and climate surveys to get to the heart of individuals’ experiences. “That data is invaluable in understanding where there are gaps in our efforts to create a sense of belonging and a climate of inclusive excellence,” she said.
“Inclusive excellence” is the term Cipriani prefers for the work she does. She acknowledges that she’ll need to learn more about CSU as a whole, as well as its culture and microcultures, before she’ll have a better understanding of both the opportunities and the challenges she’ll face here.
Cipriani also will arrive in Colorado with a set of guiding principles. She believes the historical approach campuses have taken to diversity, equity, inclusion and justice needs to be expanded, incentivizing university leadership, faculty and staff to join in and move that work forward. Ultimately, she said, diversity, equity, inclusion and justice are integral to excellence and are accomplished through everyone’s actions — everyone has a role to play.
But she’s excited.
“This job is a great opportunity, and I believe I’ve been preparing for it for the past couple decades” she said “But I’m also very excited to be joining President McConnell’s impressive team. I’m looking forward to working closely with other campus leaders to ensure inclusive excellence is infused into how we accomplish our mission.”
Cipriani also will have a faculty appointment in the Department of Ethnic Studies in the College of Liberal Arts.
Roe Bubar, who headed up CSU’s Office of Diversity on an interim basis since Ontiveros’s retirement, has returned to her position as professor of ethnic studies, with a joint appointment in the School of Social Work and affiliate faculty in Women’s Studies. The office staff will report to Provost Mary Pedersen from July 1 until Cipriani arrives.
“We are incredibly grateful to Dr. Bubar for stepping in and maintaining the momentum of the office during the past months,” said President McConnell. “She’s done an outstanding job.”