It’s all about social justice for me,” says Lorraine Lopez-Janove of the central idea that’s guided her throughout a career that includes more than 20 years in the education sector, with a focus on minoritized students. “It’s about supporting any changes or policies that address marginalized populations, whether that’s in race, ethnicity, or gender.”
It’s the same approach she brings to her new role as the chief diversity officer for SUNY Orange, SUNY Sullivan, and SUNY Ulster, which began on September 5.
In her role, Lopez-Janove provides leadership and vision to the presidents of the three universities to deliver services, policies, and procedures addressing equity, diversity, and inclusiveness. Assisting the colleges in meeting the needs of their diverse student, faculty, and staff populations, she also works to strengthen existing teaching, learning, and working environments.
“Whether it’s in education, health, or the business world, it’s becoming important to address diversity, because we are becoming more and more diverse,” says Lopez-Janove. “It’s not just about the numbers. Diversity is like inviting somebody to the dance; inclusion is actually having them dance while there.”
Lopez-Janove draws on a wide range of experience. Prior to this, she served as Sullivan County’s executive director of human rights, and also spent 25 years as a teacher, program manager, and administrator. She also was a senior project associate at the Technical Assistance Center on Disproportionality at New York University from 2010-2016, where she worked with more than 60 New York state schools cited for disproportionality of minorities in special education and/or suspension.
In her work at pre-K-12 districts throughout the state, she observed that African American/black, Latino, and other minoritized students were disciplined and classified in special education in disproportionate numbers, preventing them from taking advantage of opportunities such as enrollment in advanced/honors courses, engagement with students in general education, participation in sports, music, and/or extra-curricular activities.
“Oftentimes these opportunity gaps lead to high school/college dropout — which, in turn, leads to lower lifetime earnings,” says Lopez-Janove. “It is my goal to identify and address systemic issues that lead to opportunity gaps in order to ensure social justice for all.”
The new diversity officer’s focus on equality is an asset, as is her administrative and programmatic experience, all of which will be essential to her role, her superiors say.
“Lorraine brings to the higher education landscape a great depth and breadth of knowledge with regard to equality and diversity,” says SUNY Sullivan President Jay Quaintance. “Lorraine’s work for the County of Sullivan and her knowledge of the demographics of the mid-Hudson area serve her well as she promotes dialogue, advances agendas, and initiates change among the faculty, staff, and students at all three colleges.”
In her experience, Lopez-Janove has found that one of the biggest challenges with diversity and disparate impacts on marginalized communities is when people don’t realize a problem exists.
“There are disparities, and the individuals that make up those systems oftentimes aren’t aware that they’re creating disparities or perpetuating the disparities that exist. That’s the biggest challenge,” says Lopez-Janove.
Conversely, the biggest surprise in her new position at SUNY has been the lack of pushback, which she had encountered in previous roles, regarding disparities that existed between marginalized groups of students and others. “Students, their families, and the communities they came from were often blamed for their circumstances and, therefore, the negative educational outcomes they experienced,” she says. “I was expecting similar challenges at each of the colleges I work with. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of individuals offering support to address any biases that might exist.”
The role is still new, but Lopez-Janove is tackling these challenges by bringing her past experiences to bear on them, hoping to deliver on the promise each campus has to offer.