In the fall of 2019, the Association of Fraternity and Sorority Advisors put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) seeking a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Consultant to assess the culture and member experience within the Association related to DEI. There was intention and a desire to change embedded in the dialogue around the board table leading to that RFP. For many of us, the ways in which the Association can enhance its DEI efforts is, and has been, obvious and apparent. For others, the last several years of the Association’s own work to strategize in this area has shed light on what needs to change, why those changes are critical, and how to make change last beyond one cycle of leaders.
In August 2023, four years and many conversations, phases, and decisions after that RFP went out, AFA has introduced a new member of our team, Dr. Cecilia E. Suarez, who will serve as the inaugural Shirley-Jefferson Fellow for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA). I am perpetually grateful for the AFA Foundation for making visions like this possible. The work our Foundation colleagues and team members do to steward partnerships with organizations like Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., who made a generous gift to the Foundation to create this position, is exceptional. And how aptly named the Fellow role is in honor of two long-time volunteers to AFA and the AFA Foundation and members of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., Dr. Zach Shirley and Chris Jefferson. As has been shared time and again, it has been a journey to get to this point and there will continue to be critical discourse about what’s to come.
As the socio-political pendulum swings hard and fast from one side to the other, we must remain steadfast in the work we set out to do. Many organizations suffer whiplash from making decisions based on how they want to be perceived, not realizing how cumbersome organizational culture can be or understanding the nuance necessary when pacing organizational changes for endurance rather than momentary recognition. AFA continues to be called to do meaningful, intentional, and sustainable work to establish a more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and accessible Association.
I have been on the AFA Board of Directors for almost five years, and I know how committed we are to the pursuit of our DEIA priorities. Because I know commitment can be imperfect and inconsistent, I am optimistic about the addition of Dr. Suarez as the Shirley-Jefferson Fellow because she will serve as a regular throughline for DEIA efforts in an Association whose governance and volunteer roles tend to exist in the short-term. I am thrilled to collaborate with Dr. Suarez as she guides the Association both strategically and operationally toward our DEIA goals and beyond. There will not be one moment when we can say we have “completed the work” because the world is ever-changing. We do, however, have priorities and goals, and I am confident we are well positioned with Dr. Suarez’s expertise and leadership to meet our objectives and the expectations of our members.
In sharing my excitement about the Shirley-Jefferson Fellow, I want to also remind us that the work of DEIA does not solely rest on the shoulders of Dr. Suarez. There is responsibility and accountability in this work for everyone, whether as a champion, an advocate, a donor, an educator, a disrupter, or a learner. We owe it to ourselves and each other to reflect, gather knowledge, and do better in how we engage as colleagues and members of AFA.
Let each of us continue to think about how we can integrate DEIA in our AFA membership, our work, our collaborations, and our advising. I am excited about the work that awaits and hope you will take the time to learn more about Dr. Suarez, if you haven’t yet had the chance, by viewing her conversation with Dr. Zach Shirley and Chris Jefferson.