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August 26, 2004



Christopher MacDonald-Dennis
Christopher MacDonald-Dennis

As the Tri-Co Summer Institute oriented new students of color to the Bryn Mawr, Haverford and Swarthmore College communities this year, it also introduced Assistant Dean Christopher MacDonald-Dennis. MacDonald-Dennis started work July 30 as the first director of Bryn Mawr's Office of Intercultural Affairs, which was created last spring as part of a restructuring of the College's efforts to ensure a diverse and inclusive community of students, faculty and staff. Intercultural Affairs will concentrate on fostering intercultural exchange and understanding among students, while other members of a new Diversity Leadership Group will focus on faculty and staff issues [see related story].

"When we discussed the restructuring of the Office of Institutional Diversity with the community last spring," said Dean of the Undergraduate College Karen Tidmarsh, "students asked for a resource that was dedicated specifically to their concerns. The Office of Intercultural Affairs is designed to fill that need. Unlike the former Office of Institutional Diversity, Intercultural Affairs will not have primary responsibility for addressing faculty and staff diversity concerns, so the director doesn't have to spread himself so thin. The Diversity Leadership Group advises the president, but in his everyday capacity as assistant dean and director of Intercultural Affairs, Chris is a member of my staff, so he'll be working with colleagues who have day-to-day contact with students," Tidmarsh explained.

"We're all excited about working with Chris. He's exceptionally good at inspiring others to learn about issues of difference that can build community when we approach them thoughtfully or weaken community if we ignore them. Students who met Chris during the search process found him compelling and full of energy and new ideas that we're eager to bring to our campus."

MacDonald-Dennis, a doctoral candidate in social-justice education at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, has more than ten years of experience in higher-education administration. He comes to Bryn Mawr from the University of Michigan, where he has directed a service-learning program, advised student leaders and taught in an intergroup-relations program. MacDonald-Dennis describes the program at Michigan as "very successful at bringing together student groups that work on different issues" and says he hopes to continue that work at Bryn Mawr.

"One thing that I really enjoyed about the community at Michigan is that people could be comfortable belonging to more than one identity group," MacDonald-Dennis explained. "When I was an undergraduate, I could belong to a Latino group or a Jewish group or a gay and lesbian group, but when I stepped into any one of those meetings I had to leave the other identities at the door. That's too limiting — recognizing the ways in which our ethnic, cultural and political identities intersect and overlap helps us understand how to be allies to each other."

MacDonald-Dennis will split his time between the Dean's Office in Taylor Hall and the Multicultural Center. Among his duties, said President Vickers in a campuswide e-mail, are "developing and coordinating orientation and training programs, organizing key campus cultural events, guiding student cultural groups, directing several College programs to mentor and support students from underrepresented populations, and providing informal advising to all students interested in diversity issues."

Peaches Valdes
Peaches Valdes

Another key factor in the reorganization is the appointment of Peaches Valdes, the Admissions Office's Director of Multicultural Recruitment, as Assistant Director of Intercultural Affairs. Valdes will serve concurrently in both capacities. "I think this arrangement makes a lot of sense," she said. "It creates continuity between recruitment and retention of students from underrepresented groups, and I'm sure it will be personally very rewarding for me to see that the people I recruited are flourishing here at Bryn Mawr. And I already love working with Chris."

The Office of Intercultural Affairs will also be staffed by Program Assistant Vanessa Christman as well as a graduate intern and undergraduate student interns.

The President's Office will welcome MacDonald-Dennis to the community and introduce the new Diversity Leadership Group at a reception in the Ely Room of Wyndham on Tuesday, Sept. 7, from 3 to 5 p.m.

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