By David Goll
Dr. Craig John Alimo joined the San Jose State University Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI) in February to fill a new position as a diversity trainer/educator. He will oversee curriculum and professional development, and conduct outreach efforts for a student population of more than 33,000. He joins SJSU’s Chief Diversity Officer Kathy Wong(Lau), Deputy Diversity Officer Fernanda Perdomo-Arciniegas, and other staff members in the office who are engaged at a university with a storied and long history of student civil rights activism and service to a diverse student population.
Dr. Kathleen Wong(Lau), SJSU’s Chief Diversity Officer since 2016, said Alimo’s lengthy and extensive experience in educational diversity and familiarity with academia is a strong advantage.
“He knows from a hands-on perspective what it takes to do the work and the forethought it requires,” Wong(Lau) said. “Universities are complicated places and sometimes, you push on one part, and something else emerges. He has a very thoughtful approach based on his experience.”
Wong(Lau) said Alimo will be taking over many of the tasks she’s been handling since arriving at SJSU, freeing her to oversee additional comprehensive campus-wide diversity projects. Logging 23 years of work in social justice and diversity education, Alimo most recently worked as director for equity and inclusivity for the Napa Valley Community College District. He also previously worked at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Maryland, among other educational institutions.
“I’m totally tickled, excited and humbled to be working with Kathy,” Alimo said. He and Wong(Lau) worked cooperatively on a nationwide research project examining the educational benefits of Intergroup Dialogue programs, a small-group, face-to-face discussion format that encourages participants of two or more different social identity groups to reach new levels of understanding, relationships and action through talk with an extensive list of reading assignments.
“I’ve known her for many years,” he said. “She has done amazing things here and elsewhere. This job is more aligned with my scholarship and skill set, so I’m so happy to be here.”
Among other duties, Alimo will oversee the university’s intergroup dialogue initiative, started a year ago. The groups of 12 to 15 people each meet weekly over an eight-week period. ODEI initiated the program, helping train faculty, staff and students from across campus who volunteered for training to become group facilitators. This spring, 170 SJSU students, faculty and staff volunteered to participate in these discussions, far outpacing the initial capacity.
Diversity “touches all aspects of a university,” Alimo said. Campuses can be places where students from often-segregated communities or circumstances first meet substantial numbers of people from different racial, ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds as well as sexual orientation and gender identities, he said.
“Campuses are like social science laboratories. Everything out in society is here, too, and affects us,” he said. “What we know from research is that people with exposure to diverse environments often have amazing educational outcomes, can think with more complexity, do better on grad-school exams, and have a tendency to volunteer and vote more often [amongst other outcomes].”
Alimo expressed excitement about how intergroup dialogue can foster greater understanding and better relations between and within various groups on campus. The pedagogical approach that Intergroup Dialogue uses to creating an anti-bias, anti-racist, multicultural and social justice educational system has its roots to the 1940s and ‘50s. Its more recent incarnation on university campuses was initially created during the 1980s when the University of Michigan created its Program on Intergroup Relations. Wong(Lau) said SJSU’s program is based on that model.
University-based diversity programs can have ripple effects on the rest of society, Alimo noted. He recently attended a presentation by a collection of local high-tech companies addressing the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in the workplace and corporate world. Silicon Valley companies on how they can capitalize on the presence of diversity in the workforce up to the executive level.
Wong(Lau) expressed excitement that adding Alimo to her team will greatly enhance the work of her office, which she described as having “a good reputation for delivering good work.” Another program of which she’s proud is an eight-week session for white faculty members to recognize how their comparatively privileged status and still-majority position at SJSU can be used to foster greater awareness and understanding for their colleagues and students of color.
Other goals await.
“One of our biggest challenges is remaining nimble yet helping campus leaders focus on long-term goals of building organizational capacity for diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Wong(Lau) said. “It is a community of 40,000 people and we want to support everyone’s success, engagement, and growth.