New Director for Student Diversity and Inclusion hired


Photo credit: Nadia Crawford

photo provided by The University of Texas at San Antonio

In 2020, a year characterized by injustice, protest and both local and national conversations on white supremacy, Trinity University has spent nine out of 10 months so far without a director of the Diversity and Inclusion Office.

In a surprise announcement on Sunday, Oct. 11, Sheryl Tynes, vice president for Student Life, announced that Courtney Balderas-Jacob, assistant director of the Dreamers Center at the University of Texas at San Antonio, had been selected to serve as the rebranded Director for Student Diversity and Inclusion.

Balderas-Jacob’s resumé includes her most recent work at UTSA’s Dreamers Center and also features Assistant Director of UTSA’s International Student Services and the UT Health Sciences Center’s International Visitor Advisor. Outside of diversity work, Balderas-Jacob is also the Chief Operations Officer and co-owner of FLOAT, a local spa.

Balderas-Jacob is proud of her work at UTSA, especially with International Student Services. “As the youngest member on the team,” said Balderas-Jacob, “I learned a lot about how to lead in the face of ageism, sexism and general doubt. It was an opportunity I cherished and allowed me to lead the largest international office in San Antonio.”

“Assisting individuals in navigating challenging systems is something I am deeply passionate about — as an advocate and as a seeker of justice,” Balderas-Jacob said. “I am a brown Mexican-American female who was raised in a predominantly white neighborhood, in a predominately white small town. I struggled during my youth with not feeling as though I belonged with white friends while also never feeling quite Mexican enough when visiting México.”

Balderas-Jacob’s predecessor leading the Diversity and Inclusion Office at Trinity, Alli Roman, resigned this past January.

After her departure, a hiring committee co-chaired by Esther Kim (assistant director for Orientation Programs) and Dr. Michael Soto (associate vice president for Academic Affairs) began working in February. Jaelen Harris and Thomás Peña were the student representatives on the committee.

Soon after the hiring committee was formed and was getting to work, Trinity closed in March due to the outbreak of COVID-19.

Tynes, who made the final hiring decision, says that the outbreak derailed the committee’s plans to hire a new DIO director by June 1.

“We couldn’t envision [what] a search looks like if you can’t bring people to campus,” Tynes said. “We hit pause. Then I think as people figured out how to use Zoom and how to do searches, we restarted the search in the summer.”

Tynes said that Kim and Soto had busy schedules over the summer and that the hiring committee’s report eventually made it to her desk on Sept. 2.

Balderas-Jacob was one of the candidates recommended by the committee’s report. After virtual forums and presentations open to the whole university with the three finalists in late August, Balderas-Jacob was selected, hired and set to begin her new role on Monday, Oct. 19.

“I felt that the interview process was incredibly robust,” Balderas-Jacob said. “The line of questioning during the first and second round of interviews showed that the community really cared about bringing on someone who was not only qualified but more importantly would be able to move the needle on the Diversity and Inclusion work Trinity is seeking to do internally and externally.”

“UTSA loved her — the feedback on her was very positive across all the constituencies,” Tynes said. “We’re looking for someone to build an office and really meet with our students and understand what our students want and need.”

The general hiring timetable for the new DIO Director, however, has raised concerns amongst some students. Aria Gastón-Panthaki, senior psychology major and student assistant in the DIO, has followed the process closely from the beginning.

“I don’t think they’re taking [the hiring process] seriously,” Gastón Panthaki said. “I think the fact that it has been [this long] is shocking to me.”

That’s not the only issue that has some students grumbling — after Roman’s resignation in January, the DIO’s halt in operations left students involved reeling.

“Everything in DIO shut down,” Gastón-Panthaki said. “All funding was put on hold, all programs shut down.”

“The way that [the DIO] has been treated is like it’s ‘extra,’” Gastón-Panthaki said. “When there are financial difficulties it’s considered non-essential.”

Balderas-Jacob will be stepping into a different title than the one Roman left behind, becoming the Director for Student Diversity and Inclusion rather than the director for the Diversity and Inclusion Office.

“We changed the title to be more clear and focused on students,” Tynes said. “It doesn’t mean that she won’t do things for faculty or staff, but the main goal is to work with students.”

Balderas-Jacob, as the new Director for Student Diversity and Inclusion, will also have direct lines of reporting to both Tynes and Danny Anderson, university president.

“I think that there’s just a real hope from the student body that [Balderas-Jacob] will look at what is working in the DIO and what is not working in the DIO and enhance what’s not working and then also do the same for Trinity,” Gastón-Panthaki said. “There are a lot of things that go on on our campus that are not great.”

According to Dr. Tynes, the first month or so of Balderas-Jacob’s time on campus will be a structured set of meetings to put her in contact with key individuals and organizations on campus.

“Step one is becoming familiar with the critical campus allies and all the aspects of the Intentional Inclusion initiative,” Balderas-Jacob said. “Step two will be to complete an inventory or what currently exists for students, finding out what has been working, what may need adjusting, where there are opportunities for new programs, partnerships and training. Then, taking all of these things forward to be sure that we meet the goals set by the D&I task force and responding to the immediate needs of students.”

Between the country’s ongoing reckoning with systemic oppression and on-campus discourse with entities such as The Trinity Way movement on social media, Balderas-Jacob is taking up her post at a time where ties between everyday people and institutions of power are strained.

“I think that what students are worried about is that if the person in the DIO will not challenge the administration, then nothing will change for the better,” Gastón-Panthaki said. “I hope [Balderas-Jacob’s] that person.”