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Diversity VP goes on temporary personal leave

Vice President of Diversity and Achievement Elena Bernal ’94 is on temporary personal leave. She has been off-campus throughout the year and will likely return in four to eight weeks, according to President Raynard Kington.

Bernal left for personal reasons unrelated to her job or her position at the College. No specific rationale was given by Kington out of respect for Bernal’s privacy.

“I will not comment on any personnel matter that involves the privacy of our employees.” President Kington said.

Kington announced her leave in an all-campus e-mail last Friday, Sept. 10. The announcement came less than three weeks after Intercultural Affairs Associate Dotty Slick, who reported to Bernal, was put on administrative leave. Bernal and Slick were the only members of the Office of Diversity and Achievement until last May, when Marlene Jacks was hired as a second Intercultural Affairs Associate.

Associate Dean of the College and Professor of Religious Studies Kathleen Roberts Skerrett was appointed by Kington to replace Bernal in her absence, in addition to her other duties. Skerrett and Jacks will continue the work of the department. They may hire a temporary helper for parts of the job that require less specific expertise, according to Kington.

Mario Macias ’11, who has worked closely with both Bernal and Jacks, is at least one member of the Grinnell College community who is concerned with the changes in the Department of Diversity and Achievement.

“The Administration is treating the turnover in the department as a quantitative problem when it really is a qualitative issue. I feel that the student’s voices are not being heard when it comes to the hirings and firings in this department,” Macias said.

Macias described Bernal as the rock of the typically underrepresented students on campus. Throughout the past three years here, he has relied on Bernal for both academic and emotional support.

Graciela Guzman ’11, a member of the Student Organization of Latinos, which worked closely with Bernal, believes Bernal will return just as strong as ever.

“She’s a human and she’s having a hard time,” Guzman said. “She’ll be back and she’ll help us out.”

Skerrett is trying to fill the void left by Bernal and Slick’s absences. She believes that, while it is going to be a challenge, she can do what needs to be done.

“We will work closely with SGA so that if they identify gaps we can address them,” Skerrett said.

“If people have immediate or pressing concerns, they can communicate them through Ben Offenberg [’11] and he can always call me.”

But Macias is concerned that Skerrett does not have the connections to students and student groups that Bernal and Slick do.

“It’s going to be hard to get that kind of student relationship back,” he said. “All of a sudden she has to deal with all these budgets, all these student groups, all of us. It’s like a chicken running around with its head cut off.”

Guzman is more optimistic.

“I completely believe that both of them are going to do the job well,” Guzman said. “We just need to give them a chance.

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    Mariel MOct 16, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    From what I’ve seen and heard on campus, have to say that it seems to have a bit of negligence and avoidance of duty for both parties placed on leave.