Emelyn dela Peña, assistant dean of student life for equity, diversity and inclusion in the Office of Student Life at Harvard College, has been appointed associate vice chancellor for student affairs and dean of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) at Washington University in St. Louis, effective Oct. 31, according to Provost Holden Thorp.
Dela Peña succeeds LaTanya Buck, founding director of the CDI, who left the university in July to become dean for diversity and inclusion at Princeton University.
“In establishing the Center for Diversity and Inclusion more than two years ago, we hoped it would be a means for developing and attracting great leaders in the area,” Thorp said. “Our recruitment of Emelyn dela Peña to lead the center is a validation of all the great work that has been done by so many to get the CDI to this point, and we are confident that Dean dela Peña is the right leader for the next era.”
In her new role, dela Peña will lead the work of the CDI, which provides support and advocacy for students from traditionally underrepresented or marginalized populations and creates collaborative partnerships with campus and community members to promote dialogue and social change. Her portfolio of responsibilities also will include oversight of the Office of International Students and Scholars.
“I am delighted that Emelyn will take the helm of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion,” said Lori S. White, vice chancellor for student affairs. “She brings to the position the right mix of experience and scholarship, and a deep commitment to creating and sustaining diverse and inclusive educational environments. She will be a wonderful addition to the student affairs team and will inspire our students to learn, grow and come together as a unified and supportive community.”
An experienced leader in higher education, dela Peña has spent more than two decades as an administrator and teacher. In her current position, she serves as a member of Harvard College’s senior staff, advising the dean of the college and dean of students on issues regarding equity and inclusion. She was responsible for creating the overall strategic vision and assessment plan for diversity and inclusion at the college, and has led initiatives focused on gender, sexuality and diversity, including the Harvard College Women’s Center, the Office of BGLTQ Student Life, Intergroup Dialogue program, First Generation Student Working Group, and Undocumented Student Programs.
She also has taught courses in student development theory, diversity and social justice, and student affairs theory and practice at institutions including Merrimack College and Salem State University, and led workshops at her alma mater, the University of California, San Diego.
“In Emelyn dela Peña, we have found a leader who truly understands and embraces the myriad challenges of diversity and inclusion that are present on all college campuses. We will undoubtedly make great strides in our goal to ‘be better and do better’ with her here,” said Adrienne Davis, vice provost and the William M. Van Cleve Professor of Law, and chair of the committee tasked with conducting a national search to fill the position. “I am grateful to the work of the search committee for guiding us to the perfect person for this mission-critical role.”
Before assuming her current position, dela Peña served as campus diversity officer and director of the Women’s Center at UC San Diego. There, she developed and implemented a strategic plan for campuswide diversity initiatives, and managed operations of the Women’s Center, which provides resources and educational programs focused on gender equity and social justice.
“I am honored and humbled to join the Washington University community as associate vice chancellor and dean of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion,” dela Peña said. “The campus engagement in diversity and inclusion was evident throughout my campus interviews and I am excited to build upon the excellent work the university is already advancing. I’m looking forward to establishing my new home at WashU and in the St. Louis community.”
Dela Peña graduated from UC San Diego with a bachelor’s degree in ethnic studies, then went on to earn her master’s degree in education from San Diego State and her doctor of education through a joint program of UC San Diego, San Diego State and California State University San Marcos. She was honored last year with the Harvard University Faculty of Arts & Sciences Dean’s Distinction Award, and was recognized by UC San Diego three times — in 2001, 2006 and 2010 — with its Diversity Champion Award.
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