Inclusivity, Diversity and Representation for president

Georgia State sent out an email asking students, faculty and staff to take part in an informative survey to help choose the next president of Georgia State. Photo Submitted by Mary Brassfield | The Signal

On June 9,  President Mark Becker and Provost Wendy Hensel sent out a university-wide email, announcing the members of Georgia State’s Racial Equality Task Force.



The names of the Task Force for Racial Equality members are as follows: 

  • Chair, Jonathan Gayles, Chair and Professor of African-American Studies, College of Arts & Sciences
  • Gwendolyn Benson, Associate Dean for School, Community and International Partnerships, College of Education & Human Development 
  • Curtis Byrd, Special Adviser to the Provost
  • Cynthia Lester, Associate Dean of the Clarkston Campus and the Division of Math, Computer Science & Engineering, Perimeter College
  • Rodney Lyn, Interim Dean of the School of Public Health
  • Elizabeth Beck, Professor of Social Work, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies
  • Jennifer Esposito, Chair of the Department of Educational Policy Studies, College of Education & Human Development 
  • Collins Airhihenbuwa, Professor of Health Management and Policy, School of Public Health 
  • Elizabeth West, Professor of African-American Studies and English, College of Arts & Sciences
  • Natsu Saito, Distinguished University Professor of Law, College of Law
  • Jennie Ward-Robinson, Special Assistant to the Dean, College of Arts & Sciences (Center for African Diaspora)
  • Donna Frazier, Chair of Staff Council
  • Linda Nelson, Associate Vice President for Human Resources and Opportunity Development 
  • Allison Calhoun-Brown, Vice President for Student Engagement and Programs
  • Kaelen Thomas, President of the Student Government Association
  • Jessica Siemer, President of the Graduate Alliance 

The Task Force was created in response to Georgia State University President Mark Becker’s resignation and finding his replacement. Georgia State faculty, students and committees want to see a president that reflects the university population’s racial diversity.

At their first meeting on June 8, Hensel asked members for their guidance and advice on how to address and reduce systemic racism and police violence against Black people in the community and at the university. 

Hensel wants to “identify ways in which Georgia State maybest support our Black and other underrepresented students, faculty, staff and community.”

The committee used Atlanta-based Parker Executive Search to provide search consulting services. Georgia State will have two high-ranking executives working specifically on their behalf — President Laurie Wilder and the Vice President of Higher Education Porsha Williams.

Initially, Task Force members were supposed to send three to five unranked picks to the Board of Regents for consideration. Instead, on Dec. 8, the Presidential Task Force decided to send out a university-wide anonymous survey to gather students’ feedback.

“We’d like to engage the university community in a number of ways to ensure your input in the process and specific qualities you are looking for in the next President,” the email stated. 

Information will be sent directly to the Presidential Search Committee for consideration, construction and evaluation of the candidates.

“As an institution of higher education, it is our responsibility to foster difficult conversations and identify solutions,” Regent Neil Pruitt Jr. said.

The Board of Regents’ understands that this is one of their most important tasks, and they wanted students to be made aware of their initial steps in the search for the next President of Georgia State University. 

Pruitt along with other members of the Presidential Task Force began reviewing initial feedback on Dec. 11, 2020, and will continue to do so throughout the process.

This move from Georgia State came at the height of protests and riots taking place in Downtown Atlanta in response to the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmad Arbery and Breonna Taylor.

“Let’s be very clear that we at Georgia State stand against racism and violence. It is not sufficient, however, to simply condemn these things,” the email said.

Georgia State Presidential and Racial Equality Task Forces are not the only committees on campus calling for change. The Cultural Diversity Committee sent an open letter to Regent Neil Pruitt Jr. and the Georgia State Presidential Search Committee, reminding them of how diversified Georgia State is and how their decision for President should reflect that. 

“The Cultural Diversity Committee not only focuses on diversifying the students at Georgia State but also the faculty,” Diversify Program Coordinator Tonia Durden said. 

Durden is a member of the Cultural Diversity Committee. She participated along with the effort of over 75 members on the committee in writing the letter. 

She also assured that the committee’s major goal is to ensure the university’s faculty and staff remain just as diverse as the student body. 

Meadows sent the letter to President Becker, Provost Hensel and the President Search Committee.

The three parties received the letter before the committee conducted their first meeting, allowing them to review their position and reminders of interest and think about what they wrote.

Interests/qualifications committee wants the candidates to have: 

  1. A poll of diverse candidates and underrepresented groups (i.e., women and people of color)  
  2. Experience with students 
  3. Education
  4. Background in working with a diverse group of children and urban area communities 

Currently, the Cultural Diversity Committee has gathered over 200 signatures on the letter.

The President Search Committee began their search on Nov. 16, on the Atlanta Campus. The committee contains 23 members, ranging from professors, counselors, undergraduates and graduate students.

Members of the Presidential Search Committee are as follows:

* Neda Barqawi, Georgia State alumnus, chief executive officer and managing director of Knovalytics

* Michelle Brattain, associate professor, Department of History, College of Arts and Sciences

* Carol Cohen, assistant vice president for university advising, University Advisement Center

* Cynthia Cornelissen, director, Center for Translational Immunology; distinguished professor and associate director, Institute for Biomedical Sciences

* Donna Frazier, freshman admissions counselor III; chair, Staff Council

* Catherine Henson, Georgia State alumnus, former chair, Georgia State University Foundation Board of Trustees

* Kevin Lofton, Georgia State alumnus, chief executive officer emeritus, CommonSpirit Health; member, Georgia State University Foundation Board of Trustees

* Rodney Lyn, interim dean, senior associate dean for academic and strategic initiatives, associate professor, School of Public Health

* Arun Rai, Regent’s Professor, J. Mack Robinson Chair of IT-Enabled Supply Chains and Process Innovation; director, Center for Digital Innovation; Computer Information Systems Department, J. Mack Robinson College of Business 

* Sally Robertson, professor of theater, interim chair, Theater/Fine Arts Department, Perimeter College; member, Senate Executive Committee

* Todd Shutley, Georgia State alumnus, executive vice president and chief specialty banking officer, Ameris Bank; chair, Georgia State University Foundation Board of Trustees

* Jessica Siemer, graduate student and Ph.D. candidate, Chemistry Department, College of Arts and Sciences

* Andrew Sumner, Sc.D., associate professor, Joe Taylor Chair in Health Administration, associate professor and director, Institute of Health Administration, J. Mack Robinson College of Business

* Kaelen Thomas, university-wide student body president, Student Government Association

* Anne Tucker, professor, College of Law; director, Legal Analytics and Innovation Initiative