Dr. Turner announces Chief Diversity Officer

Dear Mustangs,

It is timely that we provide an update on our shared work toward the goals that we are discussing with our Black students, faculty, staff and alumni, because we need to keep moving forward on these important issues.

First, several Black SMU organizations have decided to work together toward common goals as the Black Unity Forum (BUF). Bringing together the Association of Black Students, the Black Law Students Association, the Black Faculty and Staff Association and the Black Alumni of SMU Board, the BUF intends to increase overall dialogue within SMU’s Black community and both consolidate and prioritize the issues of equity that various groups and individuals have asked their University to address.

While we originally committed to respond sooner to the list of issues presented by our Black Mustangs, the Black Unity Forum has requested a delay in this response until after Aug. 30 to allow more time to prepare for effectively partnering with the University on policies and programs. We look forward to receiving and responding to the newly formed group’s proposed action plan.

There is no need to wait, however, in announcing this significant step forward at SMU: Maria Dixon Hall, Senior Advisor to the President for Cultural Intelligence and associate professor of corporate communications in the Meadows School of the Arts, has agreed to accept the newly created full-time position of Chief Diversity Officer to head our University-wide commitment to open dialogue, diversity and inclusion. Dr. Dixon Hall developed and has been managing SMU’s Cultural Intelligence Initiative, and her academic research interests fall at the intersection of power, identity and culture in corporate, nonprofit, and religious organizations. Her appointment is an institutional commitment to meaningful engagement and real progress in the person of a campus leader for whom equity is a passion.

Reporting directly to me, Dr. Dixon Hall will be a senior-level resource and a strategic partner to collaborate with SMU faculty, students, administrators and staff – both initiating and reporting the outcome of diversity initiatives, policies and programs. She will continue to coordinate the delivery of SMU’s Cultural Intelligence and anti-bias training for all members of the SMU community, but she will not be working alone: She will convene a University Diversity Council to connect the missions of the diversity officers of each school and academic unit. Additionally, Dr. Dixon Hall will supervise an employee to be hired for the newly created position of University Ombudsperson, who will provide confidential, neutral counsel for faculty, students and staff who encounter conflicts relating to such things as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or religion.

Dr. Dixon Hall asked me to share with you her gratitude for the opportunity to do this important work:

I am deeply honored and humbled to be appointed by President Turner to serve our University in this critical role. We are at an important crossroads for our country and campus, and the challenges to reweave the fabric of civility, diversity and inclusion that binds us are daunting. However, I believe that as Mustangs, we are more than able to meet this challenge together in authentic and collaborative ways that affirm the sacred worth of every student, staff and faculty member. Every day, I hope you will walk with me on the journey to create a campus where every Mustang knows they are valued.

Maria Dixon Hall

If you’ve visited the SMU Cultural Intelligence webpage lately, you may have seen a reference to “the fierce urgency of now.” The creation of a Chief Diversity Officer and Diversity Ombudsperson is meaningful change for SMU now, and it is my hope that it sends a strong signal that we are living our mission to embrace excellence, integrity, intellectual freedom, open dialogue, diversity and inclusion. I look forward to continuing these important conversations.


R. Gerald Turner