By Erica Quinones
Outgoing Director of Intercultural Affairs and Co-Chair of the Diversity Committee Carese Bates bid farewell to the Washington College community after three years on Jan. 14.
Bates said joining the WC community feels “like a journey ago”; however, the time at WC “has been more than I could imagine or ask for.”
She entered the Office of Intercultural Affairs as its assistant director and coordinator for the Washington Scholars program in February 2019. Finishing her PhD coursework at University of Akron, Bates harnessed a passion for diversity, equity, and inclusion and a desire to return to the East Coast. The assistant director position at WC with its location, small-college setting, and duties seemed like a good opportunity for her to grow her skills, connect with students, and expand her career experience.
One year into her time at WC, Bates was promoted to director of Intercultural Affairs after the departure of former Director of Intercultural Affairs Dr. Jean-Pierre Laurenceau-Medina in February 2020. Taking the lead on both student-facing and administrative programming within the office, Bates said her position “[teetered] between serving as an administrator and as a student advocate.”
“While there was a lot I was responsible for, none of it was in vain because it helped me become a stronger diversity educator,” Bates said.
In her role as director, Bates said she focused on being as visible as possible, creating connections across campus, immersing herself in the community, and making herself constantly available.
Often, Bates said she felt like she was on-call, but did not mind answering her phone for students, because she knew she was a safe space for them.
Bates said she always knew she was student-centered, but WC taught her how much she would give, moving from the theoretical to lived experience.
“This journey taught me how to find my agency and find my voice [and speak truth to power],” Bates said. “I’m not necessarily using my voice to advocate for myself. Every time I use my voice as a way to advocate or develop student experiences, I’m impacting the student in a positive way.”
Intercultural Ambassador sophomore Jackie Osorio-Bravo also noted Bates’ dedication to students, saying that Bates was someone with whom she could always speak.
“It didn’t matter the topic or if I’m in a situation, I always felt that I could talk to her if I need help or guidance. She was a person I [could] come to who was superior to anyone else,” Osorio-Bravo said.
Vice President of Student Affairs Dr. Sarah Feyerherm reflected on similar insights from students.
“I remember five minutes into meeting [Bates] that this was the person we want,” Dr. Feyerherm said. “Her true passion for helping students was pretty clear, and the students knew that…One of the greatest compliments you can have as a Student Affairs official is students saying you cared for and advocated for them.”
While Bates said experiences such as co-chairing a campus-wide diversity committee and developing a diversity plan were unexpected if invaluable opportunities, it is the students she will miss most.
She described WC students as ambitious, goal-oriented, and self-advocatory. That resilience characterized her memory of the College, with Bates saying that the protest of February 2020 would define how she remembered her time at WC.
The moment stands out not because of what they were protesting — that being a series of bias incidents on campus — but because of the unity between faculty, staff, and students.
“To see us collectively marching down the Green, coming back up, and chanting together, it was powerful. And I do believe that everyone using their privilege, their power, their voice, helped the momentum of what was happening here at WC,” Bates said. “I can still feel the presence now.”
After almost three years at the College, Bates said it was time for a transition in her career.
She is optimistic about the current college administration and believes President of the College Dr. Mike Sosulski will work to further develop diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives at the College. But, like any point of transition, it was time for her to pivot her career as well.
She said this change was especially important before she became “burnt out,” hoping to see new energy in Intercultural Affairs.
While she will no longer be present to conduct that energy, Bates hopes the foundations that were laid out during her time at WC will produce a chief diversity officer, further expand the Intercultural Center to create a safe hangout for all students, and introduce more staff and faculty of color because, as she said, “representation matters…because you want to see yourself represented in the fabric of any institution.”
Bates’ next career step introduces a new passion to her own work as program manager of DEI for the International Affairs Department at George Washington University.
As the College begins its search for a new director of Intercultural Affairs, Assistant Dean Tricia Biles will serve as point person for many of Bates’ duties.
According to Dr. Feyerherm, the College will begin the search process for a new director of Intercultural Affairs in the upcoming weeks.
Dr. Feyerherm said they will be reaching out to students to have them participate in the director search, receiving and considering student input, especially during the interview and campus visit phase of hiring.
Because the director position was part of Student Affairs, Dr. Feyerherm said it has a strong focus on student experiences. The College especially hopes to find a candidate who is passionate about working with a diverse group of students and collaborating across campus with other offices.
“[We’re looking for] someone who really looks at WC as a wonderful opportunity to take advantage of how we’re poised to move into the next phase of becoming a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable campus. Someone who knows it won’t be a straight road…but is really motivated to keep us moving forward,” Dr. Feyerherm said.
While the College moves to fill the director position, Bates moves onto the next steps of her career.
“I couldn’t have done this work without the friends on-campus, there is just no way,” Bates said. “I hope my time here has been impactful and people continue to lean into their own strength, their own uniqueness, their own diversity and see it as a strength, and continue moving forward.”