Brenda Allen, PhD, Associate Vice Chancellor

My new position as associate vice chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion feels like a culminating opportunity. I have been doing work related to the goals of this job for many years as part of my scholarship and academic career.

My primary area of scholarship is organizational communication. Under that umbrella, I’m especially interested in the power dynamics of how people interact with each other.

When I was recruited to CU-Boulder in 1989, I was hired to do research and teaching on computer-mediated communication, which I had studied for my dissertation project on email use at the Public Broadcast Service’s headquarters in Virginia.

Before long, I became intrigued by the kind of interactions that occurred on the CU-Boulder campus based on race and gender. I was invited to serve in many ways on the campus. Because I am a “twofer”—a woman and a person of color—I often was asked to “represent” those groups.

Because I’m black, people assumed that my area of expertise was intercultural studies. One of my colleagues even asked me to give a lecture on Black English.

“Who better than me to study these issues?”

Throughout my life, I had often been the only person of color in different contexts, so my minority status on campus wasn’t new to me. But when I saw students and faculty of color struggling with feeling alienated, I realized that organizational communication studies had not analyzed the dynamics I was observing. So, I decided to change my scholarship to focus on race and gender. I thought, “Who better than me to study these issues?” Although that wasn’t the direction I had planned to take, my experiences on campus showed me that I could help advance theory and practice. In a sense, then, I fulfilled the stereotype about


I had become a successful scholar in my new area when I invited myself to the Communication Department at CU Denver. Two of my doctoral advisees had applied for an assistant professor position there, and they asked me to write letters of recommendation. I knew the people in the department. I knew the work they were doing. As I thought about how my advisees might fit, it dawned on me that I could fit there! Although I wasn’t looking for a change, I decided to check out the possibility of moving.

And that’s how I landed at CU Denver as a tenured associate professor in 2001. Eventually, I was promoted to full professor; I became the department chair. Then, as associate dean at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, I was responsible for shepherding the strategic plan.

“So what and then what?”

Last year, while I was on sabbatical, the provost approached me about assuming this new role of associate vice chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion. “Tell me more,” I responded. After many meetings with many different individuals and groups, I came on board on Aug.1.

My mission is to enhance diversity and foster a culture of inclusion university-wide. I will apply my professional and personal knowledge to take a practical approach to achieve that goal and fulfill our wonderful potential. CU Denver markets itself as a campus that has more racial-ethnic diversity than any other research university in Colorado, to which I reply: “So what, and then what?”

How are we optimizing the excellent opportunity we have with the racial ethnic mix on campus? We love to say we have it, but what are we doing about it?

  •  How can we develop strategic, systemic and sustainable policies and practices that really maximize the possibilities that our diverse student body affords us?
  • How are we preparing all students to live and work in a diverse world? How are we creating inclusive curricula?
  • How are we fostering a welcoming climate for all students, staff and faculty?

As we work to answer those questions, I will honor the need to focus on racial-ethnic groups, while also considering other aspects of diversity cited in our strategic plan:
gender, sexual orientation, ability status, veteran status, nationality, religion and socioeconomic status.

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