By Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion faculty and staff

Builder. Coach. Mentor. Visionary. Cheerleader. Collaborator. These are some of the words used by DU faculty to describe Tom Romero, Associate Professor at Sturm College of Law and interim Vice Chancellor in the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ODEI). Tom officially took over the interim VC role on July 1, 2020 after the former interim VC, Art Jones, returned to retirement. The position was originally held by Frank Tuitt who left DU for the University of Connecticut. Tom easily stepped into the interim position as he had previously served as the Assistant Provost for IE Research and Curriculum Initiatives in ODEI and director of IRISE.  

 In less than a year, Tom has been instrumental in building out ODEI’s capacity, launching a series of new initiatives and working groups, and filling in interstitial space needed to connect various parts of campus whose work relates to diversity, equity, and inclusion. And, as the campus community continued to deal with the pandemic and implications of remote learning last summer, Tom implemented a DEI Action Plan with 5 key Impact Areas to “improve how we talk about, understand, and measure DEI at DU.”  

Those of us who have been fortunate to work closely with Tom through IRISE, the Latinx Center, ODEI, and units across campus know that he is dedicated to DEI, and this commitment has benefitted all faculty by improving their research, teaching, and community-engaged work. It has also benefited students, staff, alumni, and community partners. Thank you, Tom, for your tireless commitment to DEI. DU and the campus community are better for it.  

Much as he did when he founded IRISE, Tom has also collaborated widely with faculty in support of initiatives such as OTL’s Inclusive Teaching Practices, directed by Dr. Valentina Iturbe-LaGrave. He has also worked closely with the Student Affairs & Inclusive Excellence and Human Resources & Inclusive Communities staff and leadership to promote best practices in supporting students, faculty, and staff. Additionally, Tom has worked tirelessly to expand upon ODEI’s existing programs including the ODEI Fellows program, increasing the size of the 2020-21 cohort to ten faculty and staff members, up from the original five faculty Fellows when the program was launched in 2018. Under Tom’s leadership, other DEI-related work has advanced as well, including the Critical Race and Ethnic Studies (CRES) minor housed in CAHSS. Dr. Liz Escobedo, Associate Professor of History, CAHSS DEI Committee Chair, and CRES Director, says of him Tom, “Tom is a fierce advocate for racial justice and he does so with care and compassion that is unmatched. My respect for him knows no bounds—as a scholar, an advocate for equity, and a good friend. I am so grateful for all he has done to make our community a better place.” 

While many know Tom for his penchant for building things, including IRISE, he has a longstanding track record of investing in faculty of color and their professional development. Since its inception, IRISE has housed 19 postdoctoral fellows, the majority of whom are members of minoritized groups/people of color, who have gone on to tenure-track and teaching positions in a variety of disciplines. Dr. Ramona Beltran, Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Social Work and interim director of IRISE, adds, “Stepping into the interim faculty director role with IRISE has been a journey of learning but also one of ease because he built such a strong foundation for interdisciplinary scholarship, practice, and creative works committed to issues of equity and social justice. I am grateful to benefit from his guidance and vision.” 

Tom’s impact on faculty, particularly faculty of color, is especially pronounced. As interim VC, Tom has buttressed efforts to not only increase the recruitment and retention of diverse faculty but also provided supports to increase their chances of earning tenure and promotion. Tom has also been a champion of increasing diversity via Target of Opportunity and cluster hires. Finally, in response to concerns raised by Black faculty, students, and staff, Tom pushed for a new position, the Black Community Experience Coordinator, recently filled by Dr. Andriette Jordan-Fields.  

Tom has provided individual mentorship and support to faculty at all stages of their careers. Dr. Maria Salazar, Professor of Curriculum and Instruction and Teacher Education in the Morgridge College of Education, articulated Tom’s impact on her as a scholar and person noting, “Tom Romero is one of the main reasons I am a faculty member at DU. Tom has supported my research through IRISE. This includes funding, support for community scholars, and support to gain access to additional resources outside of IRISE. Tom has supported me as a scholar of color, as a woman of color, and as a human being. In Tom, I have an advocate and mentor at DU who will always listen and provide guidance. His generosity and kindness have made DU a good place to be and a place where I can stay connected to my community. I am eternally grateful to [him].” 

Those who have collaborated with Tom on community-engaged work also speak glowingly about him. Alexi Freeman, Associate Dean of DEI, Director of Social Justice Initiatives, and Professor of the Practice at Sturm College of Law, offers, “Tom has been a welcoming presence since I first joined DU. His willingness to find and develop opportunities for colleagues, his willingness to mentor other historically marginalized faculty, and his ability to remain hopeful through times of strife has been inspiring and grounding for me. I will be forever grateful for these intangibles as well as tangibles–like IRISE and ODEI grant opportunities, both of which have greatly enhanced my work.”  

Those of us who have been fortunate to work closely with Tom through IRISE, the Latinx Center, ODEI, and units across campus know that he is dedicated to DEI and this commitment has benefited all faculty by improving their research, teaching, and community-engaged work. It has also benefited students, staff, alumni, and community partners. Thank you, Tom, for your tireless commitment to DEI. DU and the campus community are better for it.  

To share your own words of gratitude to Tom, please follow the link to this Tribute page and add your note by March 19.