Monroe France Named Vice Provost of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice

France, currently senior associate vice president for global engagement and inclusive leadership at NYU, starts April 3

Monroe France, senior associate vice president for global engagement and inclusive leadership at New York University, has been named vice provost for diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice at Tufts. He will start in the position on April 3.

In this newly created role, France is responsible for cultivating and executing key strategic priorities for diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ) and guiding and coordinating related initiatives and policies across Tufts’ campuses. His work includes broadening the understanding of diversity at Tufts to include antiracism, antisemitism, and the full spectrum of ethnicities, national origins, ages, sexual orientations, gender identities, beliefs, religions and faiths, cultures, socioeconomic backgrounds, and levels of ability.

France brings to Tufts more than 25 years of global experience as an educator, strategist, consultant, trainer, and presenter in the areas of inclusive and innovative leadership, transformation, and human rights. Over the course of nearly 20 years at NYU, across numerous roles, he has been responsible for expanding DEIJ opportunities and resources for students, researchers, faculty, staff, and administrators across the university’s global network.

France is the lead instructor for NYU Global Inclusive Leadership and Management Institute and is the founder and co-principal for NYU Environmental and Racial Justice Network. He is an adjunct professor at the NYU Silver School of Social Work and the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development’s Higher Education and Student Affairs program.

In addition to his higher education experience, France has worked and consulted in the nonprofit and corporate sectors as well as in the arts and creative industries. He currently serves on the boards for Global Black Pride and the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy where he serves as lead strategist for DEI. And he is a member of Future Talent Council where he serves on their DEI Task Force, Talent Acquisition and Employer Branding, and Future Skills think tanks.

Tufts Now spoke with France about the work he plans to do at Tufts—and his inspirations for same.

How do you envision getting under way with this work at Tufts?

I believe strongly in the importance of co-creation. I want to hear people’s voices. I’m interested in gathering groups of faculty, staff, and students to get the benefit of their experiences and then, later, to solicit their feedback as I am thinking through new possibilities. I’m looking forward to engaging with everyone, including university and volunteer leaders and members of the alumni community, in this work. I’ve always benefited from incubators where we can ask the question “What if?” I envision lots of thought leadership meetings… convening as opportunities for people to engage and build their own networks—and for them to begin to get excited about what's to come.

Students are particularly critical in this dynamic, both for the benefit of our organization and, ultimately, for their own benefit and society’s. Engaging students today is a means of talent development tomorrow. We’ll know that we’ve been successful when, ultimately, our students have taken on leadership of this effort. I love the work, but one day I won’t be doing it and it’s critical to build a pathway for new talent.

If we don't engage with these bright young people who are more disruptive in different kinds of ways that are helping us to reimagine things, we're missing out on possibility, right? And at the core of how I lead and engage in the work is through a deep, unwavering commitment to a practice defined by joy and taking thoughtful, strategic action towards justice and equity for all.

The job description for this position called for a “fundamental inclination to listen with compassion to all perspectives and experiences.” What are your experiences with creating opportunities for people to be better at listening to one another?

I see listening and dialogue as the act of engaging in possibilities, and that, in turn, is a cornerstone of leadership. In that spirit, at NYU, I have helped develop the Global Inclusive Leadership and Management Institute. This is a leadership development program for mid-level managers that asks participants to re-imagine what inclusive leadership looks like, to consider what the difference is between leadership and management. We use a shared framework that offers very concrete skills for capacity-building, including giving people a lot of space to be in dialogue with each other.

Specifically for students, I established a credit-bearing group-dialogue program—rooted in pedagogical research—as a way to give students an explicit platform for topic-based dialoguing across difference. That’s in addition to the courses that I have developed and taught to engage students in social justice and intergroup dialogue. Across our work, everything we have created has been built on tested frameworks that are based in scholarship and research.

Personally, I’ve found radical empathy to be very effective in creating opportunities for people to better understand each other across difference. Based on Finding a Path to Bridging Racial Divides by Terri Givens, radical empathy asks us to begin with the acknowledgment that there’s a historical legacy of harm in our society, that this moment is not divorced from the past, and that there's going be a lot of work needed for repair. That truth-telling, then, establishes a set of shared values to align us all and to create an effective space for having difficult conversations—and conversations that might be as difficult but can be transformative all the same.

Is there an aspect of your work that might surprise people?

One of my current areas of focus is generational diversity. I think we have to explore this aspect of diversity more deeply because, sometimes, this is precisely where things fall apart. It's not always just other facets of social diversity, including race, gender, class, disability status, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation, that can compromise our ability to understand one another. It can come down to the varying ways in which each generation communicates as well as differences in the expectations of a given generation. I consider it important for me to listen to voices with one ear attuned to these differences.

Why do you do this work?

Because I can see there are possibilities, including the possibility of our being better and of everyone having agency in their lives. I am a structuralist and I like to put into place systems that are rooted in learning and growth, in scholarship and research. I don't like systems on top of me, but I do like to build them because they yield a more equitable experience across the board, and they make the work sustainable. That’s what I want to come help build at Tufts.

I'm bothered when people say, “Oh, diversity issues.” That already sounds negative to me: What about diversity possibilities? What about inclusive innovation?

That doesn't mean that I don't acknowledge where there are gaps, when people have caused harm, and when flawed systems mean we need to address inequities and past harms. But I would not be able to stay in this work if I did not believe that there is a possibility for us to be transformative and a possibility for us to have a society in which we all have what we need to thrive. That's why I'm in it.

Who's your inspiration for that commitment?

First, Black women are my north star. During my childhood, I was raised by three generations: my great-grandmother, my grandmother, and my mother. In particular, when I was 11, my great-grandmother took care of me and my two brothers. She was an entrepreneur who left her retirement at age 70 to go back to work so she could take care of us. She gave us possibilities and I would not be where I am today if it were not for her. She’s also the person who told me that she knew I would be an educator. When I think about where I am meant to make an impact, I still hear her voice today.

The other person who created the possibility for me to be who I am is James Baldwin. Through his writings and his speeches, he demonstrated an unwillingness to be silent when it mattered. That’s critical for me. I’m not perfect by any means but I also consider it an act of kindness, being able to speak truth in a way that helps organizations and leaders to be better and to see possibilities. It’s all in the spirit of one of Baldwin’s own observations, that “not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

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