Published: Sept. 13, 2018

By Angie Chuang
Photo by Glenn Asakawa (Jour'86)

For the past 25 years, Communication Professor Karen Ashcraft has researched the dynamics of race and gender in organizations ranging from women’s shelters to commercial airlines.

Starting this academic year, Ashcraft is applying her knowledge, and her past university administrative experience, to an organization much closer to home: She is the College of Media, Communication and Information’s first-ever associate dean of diversity, equity and inclusion.

According to CMCI Dean Lori Bergen, the new position “is important to help meet our strategic goals,” and Ashcraft was selected for her “strong research record and past experience in administrative roles cultivating inclusive environments for students, faculty and staff.”

Ashcraft says she’s committed to both taking the pulse of the college from the perspectives of faculty, staff and students, and immediately putting initiatives into place that will begin to address the systemic issues of race, gender, sexuality and identity that affect climate and the health of the community.

“I’ll be the ear to the ground,” she says.

After earning her doctorate in organizational communication, Ashcraft (PhDComm’98), was hired by the University of Utah’s Department of Communication. There, she earned tenure and was appointed to Director of Graduate Studies for Communication—a role she remained in for four years.

She returned to CU Boulder in 2009 as a full professor, and directed CMCI’s Communication and Society Residential Academic Program from 2012 to 2016. She was surprised, she says, when Dean Bergen approached her about the new associate dean position.

In fact, she hesitated at first.

“Is this a moment for a white woman to be doing this?” she says she asked herself. Ultimately, Ashcraft agreed to take the position with the understanding that she would help get it launched in CMCI for a couple years.

“Upon reflection, given that diversity is my area of passion and research, I couldn’t imagine something I’d rather do than get [the associate deanship] off the ground and, when the opportunity presents itself, hand it off,” says Ashcraft, who sees her role as both external and internal to CMCI.

Externally, she’d like to take an active role in the college’s strategic plan, draw more donors to programs that benefit diversity, and “create some initiatives that have a big impact.”

Internally, Ashcraft plans to “focus on equity issues,” both in the workplace and classroom dynamics of CMCI, as well as to help spur diverse hiring, particularly in senior positions where, she noted, racial and gender diversity are most needed.

A new $15,000 gift established by the parents of a current student will allow her to implement new inclusion programming throughout the college.

“If I were going to build on my experience with administration, I wanted it to be in this area,” she says. “Issues of diversity are where I want to inform people and get them motivated.”