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Alumni Spotlight: Shawn Maxam M.S.S./MLSP '14

May 8, 2024
Shawn Maxam

We interviewed Shawn Maxam, M.S.S./MLSP ’14, who is the Associate Provost for Institutional Diversity and Inclusion at Princeton University. Shawn currently serves on GSSWSR’s Board of Advisors. 

Coming from a creative family, Shawn Maxam thought that he wanted to pursue music full-time after graduating college with a degree in jazz music. He started his own record label and enrolled at Teachers College, Columbia University with a plan to become a music teacher. Maxam was always drawn to the helping professions, such as teaching, but while on medical leave from Teachers College, people around him encouraged him to consider pursuing a degree in social work instead. 

It just so happened that Maxam met a GSSWSR alum around this time, who recommended the school because of its dual degree master’s program offered at the time in social service and law and social policy. “I thought the program sounded fantastic, so I ended up attending Bryn Mawr to pursue those degrees,” Maxam says.  

After completing his field placements in hospitals doing behavioral health, Maxam thought he would continue working in hospital settings after graduating, but he instead ended up in higher education at Princeton, where he has been for ten years.  

His first job after Bryn Mawr was at Princeton’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources and Education (SHARE) office. He was able to bring his clinical skills to this role as prevention coordinator doing individual work with survivors of sexual assault, but also with people who caused harm themselves. He oversaw Princeton’s Men’s Initiatives, which promote healthy masculinity and gender inclusivity on campus. Maxam then transitioned to broader diversity, equity, and inclusion work when he joined the provost’s office. 

As associate provost for institutional diversity and inclusion at Princeton, Maxam leads strategic institutional DEI initiatives to ensure that everyone at Princeton, regardless of their background, can thrive and feel at home at the school. He leads data-driven initiatives to measure campus climate, and supports Princeton’s History and Sense of Place Initiative, which examines Princeton’s history, iconography, and how Princeton can continue to diversify and tell a fuller story about its history. 

Maxam’s role comes with many challenges, especially given the tumultuous year it has been for higher education and DEI initiatives.  

“I’m constantly thinking about how to build trust and consensus across all stakeholders at the university,” says Maxam. “There's always some external force that is impacting our campus climate. I have to think about how to support people on our campus when those external forces are happening and identify what strategies we should use to make Princeton a better version of itself. It’s a very uncertain time right now, so it’s crucial to encourage people to continue to do the important work of advancing inclusivity and excellence on our campus.” 

Despite the many challenges Maxam must navigate in this role, the skills he gained at Bryn Mawr have made him well-equipped to face them, he says.  

“The powerful thing about Bryn Mawr was that I had these experiences in the classroom that were formative in developing skills around empathy and being able to listen to different worldviews. The professors I had, like Raymond Albert, Jim Baumohl, and Cindy Sousa, created the conditions for us to be challenged, especially in our deeply held beliefs and worldviews. I think about how I can use those skills in my current role to create space for engagement around ideas and disagreement, especially concerning people’s deeply held values and beliefs.” 

Maxam has been intentional about staying involved with GSSWSR and the larger Bryn Mawr community. He was delighted by the opportunity to serve as a member of the GSSWSR’s Board of Advisors.  

“I think that a social work education, and especially a Bryn Mawr social work education, is very much needed in the world today. If there was an opportunity for me to give back to an institution that provided so much to me, I wanted to take up that offer.” 

In fall 2023, Maxam spoke on a panel about advancing change through social sector leadership during Bryn Mawr’s Owl Fest.  

“I’m inspired by the ways in which Bryn Mawr is constantly being reflective and looking at its history, thinking about how it can continue to live out its aspirations. To play a role as an alum in supporting that work and the current students, faculty, and staff has been rewarding.”