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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

VP of Diversity and Achievement back on campus

By Nate Powell-Palm & Kevin Hong

Vice President for Diversity and Achievement Elena Bernal returned to her position after going on leave last semester for personal reasons.

In the coming months, Bernal says she hopes to work with President Raynard Kington to find new ways to “strengthen diversity at the College.”

“This is a unique opportunity to move forward in diversity,” Bernal said.

During Bernal’s leave, Associate Dean of the College Kathleen Skerrett assumed Bernal’s duties and worked closely with Grinnell’s multi-cultural community, most notably overseeing the College’s response to a bias-motivated incident last Fall.

Students were impressed with how Skerrett was able to jump into working with Posse scholars, according to Camila Barrios Camacho ’12, a Posse intern.

“I feel like she was very helpful with the areas that I work which is the Posse program,” Barrios Camacho said. “She was efficient and always accessible and eager to learn about how Posse operates at Grinnell.”

While the campus community was understanding of the confidentiality that lies around Grinnell College employees’ work status, it was an uncertain time for many who had relied on Bernal for support, according to Mario Macias ’11, a Posse L.A. scholar.

“At the beginning, Kathleen Skerrett didn’t have the communal connection Elena did,” Macias said.

But others said that they were pleasantly surprised with how last semester concluded and pleased with the work that Dean Skerrett did for many different groups.

Another concern that was raised early in the fall semester was how Dean Skerrett would learn to navigate and operate alongside the Student Government Association, Macias said. But according to SGA president Ben Offenberg ’11, Dean Skerrett was not only eager to learn about the workings of the SGA, but she put forth a genuine effort to bring as much as she could to the table.

“Right from the start, Kathleen was great at communicating with SGA on what her priorities were and how she could help with SGA,” Offenberg said.

Skerrett was especially helpful during last semester’s bias-motivated incident by modifying the Hate Crimes and Bias Motivated Incidents Protocol (HCBMIP) and organizing forums, according to Offenberg.

Many students involved in campus social groups echoed Offenberg’s praise for Skerrett.

“She had the formidable task of juggling multiple top-level positions within the College at one time, and she did so commendably by not only maintaining the status quo but by pushing through major, meaningful changes during her short time as acting Vice President,” said Stonewall Resource Center Program Coordinator, Ragnar Thorisson ’11.

The recent changes in HCBMIP were a big step forward, according to Skerrett.

“One of the big conferences of last year was the finalization of the [HCBMIP]…and then posting our first Hate Crime and Bias Motivated Incident Protocol was a very important thing to do.,” Skerrett said.

Though Offenberg praised Skerrett’s work in the Office of Diversity and Achievement, he is happy to have Bernal back in action.

“Elena Bernal is a meaningful source of support for many students on campus, especially students of color and LGBTQ-identified students, and I have faith that she will continue on the path of progress laid out in her absence,” Offenberg said.

Barrios Camacho, who has worked with Bernal since she arrived on campus in 2008 as the Posse intern, agrees with Offenberg.

“I am extremely happy that Elena is back,” she said. “[Bernal] has always been a strong advocate for students and has helped implement and sustain many of the programs that Grinnell offers.”

She looks forward to working with Bernal more this semester and the rest of her time at Grinnell.

“I can’t imagine anyone better for the job,” Barrios Camacho said.

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  • M

    MichaelFeb 27, 2011 at 11:12 pm

    Bernal’s office has moved (twice, I believe) in the last few weeks. Downsized, which seems to signal a confirmation of the previous comment, along with staff being spun off.

  • M

    MickFeb 23, 2011 at 10:53 pm

    Back on campus, but I heard her department will be dissolved or reorganized because of missed management. Any info about what’s happening?

  • J

    JoseyFeb 6, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    Kathleen rocks! Wish she could stay on working in this area. Thanks for picking up the pieces and making a positive difference, Dean Skerrett!