Hui Li ‘21
Co-Chief Graphic Designer
On March 8, Provost and Dean of the College Margaret Freije sent an email to the college community announcing that Amit Taneja, the current Associate Provost for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, has accepted a new position at the Chautauqua Institution in New York State. According to the March 8 press release on the Institution’s website, Taneja is set to be Chautauqua’s “First-Ever Senior Vice President and Chief Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility (IDEA) Officer” on May 17.
The Spire reached out to Taneja for comment regarding his imminent departure from the campus community and his six-year career at the college. Provost Freije’s email stated that Taneja, who joined the Hill in 2015, “built the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” and “lead the DEI Implementation Team in the continued development and implementation of the College’s Anti-Racism Action Plan and DEI strategic plan.” Taneja stated that he could not have done these things without “partnership with others in the community.”
One of the first things that Taneja did was address the pressing task of hiring more and staff from underrepresented demographics. “I am grateful that I have been able to partner with faculty and staff to change hiring procedures at the College. Specifically, we have built in practices that focus on mission and diversity in the entire hiring process – from start to finish. This has led to some significant outcomes, including the hiring of 38% ALANA (Asian, Latino, African, and Native American) & 55% women tenure-track faculty during [the past six years],” he shared.
Taneja’s work to make the college a more diverse and welcoming place did not happen without its struggles, however. One challenge that Taneja faced came from the fact that the college, like many institutions nationwide, is a microcosm of the broader society. “Higher education institutions mirror our larger society,” he stated. In recent years, there have been a growing number of bias-related incidents across the country, and Taneja added that “Holy Cross is unfortunately not unique” in this regard.
Regarding the bias-based incidents that have happened during his time, Taneja shared, “It is very disheartening and disappointing [when these incidents occur, and i]t is hard to imagine how a member of our community could think or act in those ways. Those moments were heartbreaking – for our community and those impacted by those actions.”
“Ultimately, this is our campus as a collective. We get to define who we want to be as an institution. The students have a very important role. When they see those kinds of incongruent actions happening, that’s when we have to dig deep inside and say, ‘what is my role in this situation to address this behavior?’ [This is t]he question of ‘who am I called to be?’ Those are not just theoretical questions: they have very practical answers for when you see some kind of injustice happening. My hope is that more and more students are able to find their voice and speak up,” he said.
Another challenge Taneja addressed was the difficulty in implementing changes in some administrative policies. “Change does not come easy to historic institutions. Changing our policies and practices absolutely carries some risks: risk of the unknown, risk of failure, risk of letting go of the foundation that may have sustained the institution for a very long time. But I would argue that those changes actually sustain us to grow into the future as to fighting it,” he said.
Taneja added, “You see the impact of change over time.” He explained that when he first started working at Holy Cross in 2015, there were only two people of color on the president’s cabinet. By the time incoming president Rougeau begins his time in office in July 2021, there will be five people of color on the cabinet, he said.
Taneja, who will be leaving the college on April 16 to prepare for his role at Chautauqua, will not have a role in the college’s search for a new associate provost. He did, however, share what he hopes that his successor will do.
“I’ve tilled the soil so that the next associate provost can come in and really build on the institution’s successes so they don’t have to start from scratch. They can take the successes that we’ve had and elevate them. I’m leaving behind a lot of policies and procedures for [the future associate provost] to build upon and take Holy Cross to the next step,” he said.
When asked about what he has learned from his time at the college, Taneja stated, “I think I really grew in my understanding of, and appreciation for, interfaith dialogue – and the ways in which it can help heal some of the divides in our country…faith is one dimension which can provide the foundation for deep and difficult dialogues, and in turn can help us to change hearts and minds.” He added that the college “provided [him] an opportunity to see this in practice.”
“Chautauqua Institution is built on four pillars – arts, education, recreation and religion. [Holy Cross’] appreciation of religion as a common ground will certainly help me in my new position,” he said about the future. In addition to continuing his work on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Taneja is looking forward to doing something special soon, adding, “The past 15 months of pandemic meant that my husband and I have not seen our families for a very long time, and that we needed to be closer to our families. Chautauqua is thirty minutes from my in-laws, and about 2.5 hours from my family. I am really looking forward to being able to see my niece and nephews on a more regular basis, and defend my title as the ‘best uncle ever’!”