Faculty in Focus

Dr. Alisha Knight, Professor of English and American Studies and Associate Provost for Diversity and Inclusion

Dr. Alisha Knight

Reckoning with the Past to Foster a Healthier Future

“I’m still getting used to being more visible around campus,” Dr. Alisha Knight said, when asked about her position as Associate Provost for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Washington College, a new, groundbreaking role she stepped into in 2022.

“When I was asked to consider this position, I thought it was a good time for me, having already earned tenure, and in thinking about what’s next for me in helping this institution.”, Dr. Knight stated as we sat in her office, discussing the effects of this new role on her life and the college learning environment.

Dr. Knight admitted her interest in this type of work began years prior to the creation of her current position.  When asked about her approach to being the first person to occupy the position Knight replied, “A position like this, it’s all very new for everyone.  It involves setting parameters, expectations, and boundaries, but it’s a good opportunity to help others who were doing this work come together and see how their work is impacting this institution.  It’s not something, I think, we’ve had before.  People have been working on their own committees or their own classes or initiatives, but it was dispersed.” 

When inquiring about the timing of her appointment, I asked, “In the Fall of 2020 when I arrived at Washington College it was a heated and interesting period in our country in relation to diversity and social justice, a tumultuous time.  In creating your current position, were there specific incidents that prompted that creation or was it something that was in the plan?”

Dr. Knight replied, “People have been advocating for a type of Chief Diversity Officer position.  I had spoken to a previous president about a position after there was some turnover in the Intracultural Affairs Office.  The Diversity Committee was advocating for it, and students were vocal, especially in the spring of 2020.  In the wake of various incidents, they were protesting and wanting to see change.  I do want to recognize the work of students and the Diversity Committee in advocating for a position in previous years.”

In speaking to the leadership component of her current role, Dr. Knight, said, “This position gives me the opportunity to recognize all that work that’s happening around campus and to bring people together when I can and when needed, to bring that work back into a conversation and highlight the work people are doing.”

Speaking to Dr. Knight’s earlier comment concerning visibility, I asked, “It sounds like you were the right person in the right place at the right time.  Is being more visible something you are becoming more comfortable with around campus?”

“I’m getting used to it.  I think, I’m always going to be that introvert who will need time to regroup after being in a public space.  I think people misunderstand introverts for being shy.  I’m not a shy person.  I’m just someone who spends a lot of energy listening more than speaking, reflecting more than performing.  I’m always going to be someone who sees that visibility as a form of performance.  I don’t think that will ever be who I am to the core.  I feel especially stressed out if I feel like my filter is working overtime, but I understand the need for it.”, Knight said.

As Dr. Knight described her position, she said, “When I came on, I had to explain to people that I’m not the diversity police.  We’re not a large university where you have this one person overseeing all these different diversity offices.  Right now, we have an office of one where we’re trying to foster more inclusivity here, which means that everyone plays a part in that.  I’m trying to find ways to empower everyone on campus to see how they can contribute to this effort and trust their instinct but also make efforts to be informed.” 

“In order for individual efforts to be more enduring, we need buy in from the entire campus community, and that comes when people see themselves as a part of that initiative, when they realize that they have a part to play, and they’re involved.”, Knight said.

When I asked how she plans on fostering diversity and equity initiatives, Dr. Knight said, “I don’t pretend to know everything, but I’m finding that I can draw on past experiences and expertise to develop my specialization in this role.  I’m thinking about how I can provide professional development to faculty to foster that.  Also, to help in hiring more diverse faculty, and because I have experience as a recruiter, I’m thinking I can help faculty with their recruitment efforts to create this more inclusive environment.”

“President Solsulski said he wanted to implement a search advocate program.  Having an opportunity to think about how we craft our job advertisements so that they are promoting the college and encouraging people to apply, and how we can screen our candidates so that we are reducing bias as much as possible.  How can we demonstrate that we are welcoming and that candidates can see themselves here?  These are things, I think, that will be important for the college.  Students have said they want to see more diverse faculty.  When I say diverse faculty, I am using that very broadly, but certainly thinking of more faculty of color.  I think there’s a lot of work we have to do in that area, and I’m hopeful that my role can help with that.”, Knight said.

After speaking about President Solsulski’s experience in working toward diversity and inclusion, I asked Dr. Knight, “Do you find that you have a good ally in the President based on your experience?”

Knight said, “I think so.  I’m really glad that he accepted the position to come here and that he’s bringing that experience with him.  Not to slight the previous presidents, but he has brought a certain type of energy when it comes to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion that I haven’t sensed from previous presidents.  I think that makes a difference because when you want to encourage a campus to change, I think timing is very important.  For us as a campus to recognize this need to do more to foster inclusivity, paired with the timing of the new president’s arrival, paired with the fact that this new president is very committed to this work, I think things are aligned for the college to advance in ways that it has struggled to in the past.  He’s certainly very supportive of the role, and I’m glad to have that support.”

Inquiring about the reach of her role, I asked Dr. Knight, “How do you see your role in the community outside of the campus in relation to diversity, equity, and inclusion?  Obviously, we’re not in a vacuum.  How are you incorporating that aspect in what you are doing in your current role?”

Knight replied, “My role is not as outward facing to the community as one might think.  Pat Nugent, who is the Director of Civic Engagement, his role is connecting the community to the college.  My role is focused on policy and strategy within Academic Affairs, but I am still asked to weigh in on certain things.  For example, the Washington College History Project asked me to attend a meeting and were considering ways to continue with the mission of that project to research and explore the college’s complicated history, reconcile that history, and make recommendations.  Certainly, the strategic diversity plan calls for more community engagement.”

Dr. Knight expressed that her years at Washington College and the relationships she’s nurtured over her career here are important to her role as Associate Provost for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.  The parameters of her position focus on supporting and developing faculty, thinking about Washington College’s curriculum, and learning environment rather than the broader community.  After clarifying her role, Dr. Knight said, “Having said that, I know we have faculty that have courses that involve experiential learning or community engagement.  The extent to which I can support those faculty members invites other opportunities to engage with the larger community.”

Dr. Alisha Knight Named as Incoming Associate Provost of Diversity and Inclusion and Senior Equity Officer (washcoll.edu)

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