June 15, 2020
“Be responsive to the needs of society and be willing to examine how we can continue forward,” says Leah Lattimore (CAS ’04, STEINHARDT ’10, ’22), whose 20-year NYU career has shaped student lives, served as a resource to people of color, and made an outsized impact on the University.
Leah oversees the University’s Center for Multicultural Education and Programs (CMEP) and its LGBTQ+ Center within the Office of Global Inclusion, Diversity, and Strategic Innovation. Her work has been transformative for students, staff, and faculty by providing essential resources to those in need, including: People of Color, People with Disabilities, LGBTQ+ communities, low-income communities, and working artists. She has had an extensive impact on the post-graduation success of students, including supporting historically underrepresented students at NYU and increasing their career opportunities in a variety of sectors. Leah is currently pursuing her doctorate in Higher Education Administration from NYU Steinhardt.
Leah spoke with us about her work, the vitality of equity and inclusion in our community, and how CMEP is responding to the current call for racial justice echoing around the world.
NYU was extremely influential—I even decided to come back and work here! But honestly, the opportunities to explore dynamic courses and intern in New York City helped me figure out my strengths and growth areas. I continue to have great appreciation for the English Department as I had an opportunity to read scholars that I would have never known about and hone my ability to write critically and examine things from multiple perspectives. I cultivated my voice at NYU. I engaged in activism and connected with my peers about local and global issues. So much of my time at NYU added to my foundation.
Last month, Leah was honored with the inaugural 2020 NYU Liberal Studies Alumni Ambassador Award, which celebrates a dedication to the Liberal Studies community as well as engagement, innovation, service, or creative practice in addressing global challenges.
The students. As an administrator, I am inspired and in awe of our students. Their brilliance and commitment to pushing this institution to be its best, most equitable, diverse, and inclusive self pushes me. I appreciate that our students have a wide variety of experiences and backgrounds that inform their outlook and I learn from them daily. I love that this community is not afraid to hold itself accountable and is open to growth and change. It can be somewhat disconcerting to see an institution change and many feel like it’s not the place that they knew, but to me that’s a great thing. The institution’s willingness to adapt and respond shows me that NYU can continue to be an influential voice in higher education. I want to be a part of a community that is reflective and nimble. We should be responsive to the needs of society and be willing to examine how we can continue forward.
This moment in our history builds upon so many acts of violence, anti-Blackness, and white supremacy that have created and operationalized oppression. The intersection of a global pandemic with the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and others really forced the U.S. to take a prolonged look at what has been happening to Black people around the country. This conversation is important and I hope and believe it will lead to systemic change. There are things we can all do locally to make that happen and I’ve been encouraged by the sharing of resources, centering Black voices, and real commitments to change.
We truly appreciate the support of the community and do not take our role lightly. Dr. Lisa Coleman, our Senior VP for Global Inclusion and Strategic Innovation, has issued a powerful statement that includes some of the actions we’re taking within the NYU community. This work has been ongoing and all of us on the team are committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. We hope that we can expand our partnerships and share knowledge together to create an inclusive environment for all of our students, faculty, and staff. And thank you to everyone who has sent a message, tagged a post, or indicated that they are engaging in anti-racists practices that center the most marginalized in our society.
One thing that I’ve learned and have been challenged with is meeting needs on individual and institutional levels. I have so many great relationships with students but I have to remember it’s not enough for my office to be a great space for students, the University should be that as well. My work across NYU has shown me that while it is a large decentralized institution, we can work together intentionally to make NYU feel smaller and be more accessible. I’ve learned that we should look at student experiences holistically and include their voices in our decision-making processes as much as possible. I’ve also learned that NYU has so many passionate and dedicated staff and faculty who are willing to work together across multiple areas, departments, and titles. Finally, I’ve learned that our alumni community is vital in these efforts and we must continue to engage our alumni and create opportunities for connection.
One of the biggest challenges I’ve witnessed is navigating the vastness of NYU and connecting with each other. NYU is a community of communities and the great thing about that is you have an opportunity to explore a number of interests and connect with people from around the world on various topics. However, initiating those connections or sustaining them in a meaningful way can be a challenge. I think ongoing work to facilitate community, conversation, and connection can help to deepen relationships with peers, faculty, administrators, and alumni. Those relationships can truly build a network of support that meets student needs during their tenure at NYU and plant the seed for mentorship when they graduate.
There were so many courses. I had the opportunity to take a course with the late Kamau Brathwaite. I can still remember sitting in class listening to him state the importance of Black voices and encouraging us to explore texts beyond the mainstream.
One of my mentors is my current supervisor—Monroe France! Monroe has had two tenures at NYU and during his first, he was an administrator in what is now the Center for Student Life. He was my advisor and coached me on working collectively, bringing people together, and working toward greater goals than individual success. I have carried those lessons with me and it’s truly unique but lovely to be able to continue to grow as a professional with him having my back.
I don’t know if I can characterize it as an initiative but the affinity networks that were reimagined a few years back have been so exciting to watch. Our office is committed to the cultivation of the alumni community and seeing some of the networks that we work directly with such as the Black Alumni Network, LGBTQ+ Alumni Network, Latinx Alumni Network, and the Native & Indigenous Alumni Network, expand and grow their membership and offerings has been rewarding. Seeing our current students transition to these communities and maintain a connection to the university also allows us to incorporate more alumni voices into our daily work.
I often hear from alumni who want to get involved—specifically with the Office of Global Inclusion, Diversity, and Strategic Innovation but also with the University broadly. One of the first and best ways is to join the newsletters of the area that interest you. Many of our events are open to alumni and we readily reach out for panelists and speakers to share their insights. Additionally, there has been the launch of the NYU Violet Network that provides multiple points of engagement with students. Some folks don’t have the capacity to engage in a sustained mentoring relationship and this is a great way to directly support a student without an extensive commitment. I know there are asks for financial support and that is important and needed, but also consider giving your time, contributing your voice, and being present within the community.