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Mercedes Ramírez Fernández appointed University’s first Vice President for Equity and Inclusion

Mercedes Ramírez Fernández, associate vice provost for strategic affairs and diversity at Virginia Tech, will join the University on July 1 as Rochester’s first vice president for equity and inclusion. University President Richard Feldman announced Fernández’s appointment, which follows a national search that began this past fall. The University Board of Trustees also announced that this position has been endowed through donations and named the Richard Feldman Vice President for Equity and Inclusion to honor President Feldman, who is stepping down at the end of June.

The vice president will lead the new Office of Equity and Inclusion and work closely with deans and other senior leaders and campus constituencies to create, implement and lead an institution-wide diversity strategic plan that includes recruitment, training, communication, policy and metrics. Working with campus diversity leaders, the vice president will integrate this strategy with federally mandated anti-discrimination compliance, and will also identify and pursue opportunities to foster a welcoming and inclusive environment, including promoting the University’s Vision, Values, and Culture of Respect.

Mercedes Ramírez Fernández. (Virginia Tech photo)

At Virginia Tech, Fernández is a leader within the Office of Inclusion and Diversity and Office of Strategic Affairs, responsible for creating and sustaining programs that increase faculty, staff and student diversity; ensure a welcoming, affirming, safe and accessible campus climate; prepare students for service through an understanding of issues of identity and the human condition; and develop and support innovative inclusiveness programs and policies across Virginia Tech’s campuses. Fernández’s expertise is in diversity in higher education curriculum, institutional models that support student success, strategic enrollment management, alumni relations and assessment.

“To succeed in making the University as welcoming and effective as possible, the University must continue its work to identify and address our challenges related to diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Feldman, who served as chair of the search committee. “I am confident Mercedes Ramírez Fernández is the right person to lead these efforts and our new central office dedicated to building meaningful progress in these areas.  I’m thrilled she has accepted the role and know that she’s ready to work with staff, faculty and students to cultivate and embrace a more inclusive, equitable, accessible and diverse University environment on many fronts.

“I want to thank members of the search committee and the trustee and alumni advisory committee for the time they contributed over several months that resulted in the selection of the most compelling candidate for the position,” said Feldman.

The vice president for equity and inclusion is the chief diversity officer for the institution and reports to the University president. Sarah C. Mangelsdorf, who formally becomes University president this summer, was also involved in selecting Fernández for this leadership position.

“Mercedes and I were colleagues a number of years ago at the University of Illinois, and I am delighted that we will be colleagues again at the University of Rochester,” said Mangelsdorf. “I know she will bring passion, experience, and dedication to the important work of creating the new Office of Equity and Inclusion. I look forward to supporting her efforts in every way I can.”

“This is an important step for the University,” said Lance Drummond ’85S (MBA), University Trustee and chair of the trustee and alumni advisory committee. “Through this appointment, the University is demonstrating leadership in an area that has been a key priority for President Feldman, the Board of Trustees and so many others in our community.  I am delighted for our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends to have a strong leader in these critical efforts.”

“I have been inspired and impressed with the quality of work already being done at the University of Rochester in the diversity and inclusion space,” said Fernández. “I am eager to apply my passion for social justice and my experience leading diversity, equity and inclusion efforts to the energy of a premier institution of research and learning.”

Prior to being named associate vice provost at Virginia Tech, Fernández was interim assistant chancellor and assistant provost for student diversity at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. There she directed the Illinois Promise Program, supporting first-generation and low-income student success.  She also has served as assistant dean of admissions and director of student advising and learning communities in its College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and as vice chair of the chancellor’s and provost’s committee on race and diversity, helping advance a successful proposal to have all students take a course focusing on the lived experiences of U.S. minorities. Prior to joining Illinois, she directed living-learning communities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

She earned an Ed.D. in higher education management from the University of Pennsylvania, a master’s degree in counseling from the University of Iowa, and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez.

The search was assisted by Diversified Search, one of the nation’s top executive recruitment firms specializing in this area.



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