Robin R. Means Coleman has been named Northwestern University’s vice president and associate provost for diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer, Provost Kathleen Hagerty announced today following a national search. Coleman will begin Feb. 1.
“Robin Means Coleman is the perfect fit for Northwestern, and we are thrilled to welcome her to the University,” Hagerty said. “She has deep experience developing policies and best practices for advancing diversity, equity and inclusion at research institutions across the country,” Hagerty said. “She will help us realize the University’s commitments to equity and inclusion, during a time when we, as a University and a country, grapple with pervasive anti-Blackness and the inequitable effects of a global pandemic.”
Coleman comes to Northwestern from Texas A&M University, where she serves as vice president and associate provost for diversity and a professor in the Department of Communication. There, she leads the university’s efforts in accountability, climate and equity, working collaboratively with faculty, staff and students across Texas A&M’s 16 colleges and schools and two branch campuses.
“I am deeply honored to join Northwestern University as vice president and associate provost for diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer,” Coleman said. “I will have the great privilege of working with members of Northwestern’s campuses — as well as with alumni and our external partners — to advance the strategic goals of further improving campus climate, fostering belonging, increasing diversity and evidencing accountability. Together, we will work to make the experiences of every Wildcat — students, faculty and staff — even better and ensure that we all thrive.”
Coleman is also a nationally prominent and award-winning scholar of communication and African American studies, with a focus on media studies and the cultural politics of Blackness. She is the author of several books, including “Horror Noire: Blacks in American Horror Films from the 1890s to Present,” and “African-American Viewers and the Black Situation Comedy: Situating Racial Humor.”
Coleman will hold a tenured appointment as the inaugural Ida B. Wells and Ferdinand Barnett Professor in the Department of Communication Studies in the School of Communication, and courtesy appointments in the Department of Radio/TV/Film in the School of Communication, and in the Department of African American Studies in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.
“It is quite a coup that Northwestern was able to recruit Robin Means Coleman to be our next chief diversity officer,” said E. Patrick Johnson, dean of the School of Communication and Annenberg University Professor. “She has been a trailblazer in diversity, equity and inclusion for many years. Now, we will be the beneficiary of her deft leadership as we navigate our own journey toward a more diverse, equitable and inclusive Northwestern. I’m also delighted that Professor Coleman will have a tenured appointment in the School of Communication, where our students and faculty will encounter her transformative scholarship and teaching.”
Northwestern announced in August that the incoming chief diversity officer will serve on President Morton Schapiro’s Senior Staff, while reporting to Provost Hagerty. The provost said the decision to elevate the chief diversity officer role to the President’s Senior Staff was made based on feedback from more than 1,000 members of the Northwestern community, who responded to a request for input into the search process. The search committee also met with more than three dozen groups of students, faculty, staff and alumni.
Coleman will oversee the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, which is dedicated to coordinating efforts to counter racism and exclusion and promote equity and access. The office also provides programs and resources and engages in advocacy for students, staff and faculty of all backgrounds.
“Change and progress are what make Northwestern University a world-class institution. Northwestern has always led when it comes to developing innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. The University succeeds and thrives because it is home to the very best thought leaders,” Coleman said.
Before her appointment at Texas A&M, Coleman was on faculty at University of Michigan and served as associate dean of social sciences in the Rackham Graduate School, as well as chair of the Department of Communication Studies. She previously was on faculty at University of Pittsburgh and New York University.
Coleman received her bachelor’s degree in communications from Chatham College, her master’s degree in communications from University of Missouri and her Ph.D. in mass communications from Bowling Green State University. She later earned a certificate in diversity and inclusion from Cornell University.
When she begins at Northwestern in February, Coleman will succeed Sekile Nzinga, who served in the position at an interim capacity after Jabbar Bennett stepped down in early 2020. Nzinga will resume her role as director of the Northwestern Women’s Center and lecturer in Gender and Sexuality Studies in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. Hagerty thanked Nzinga for her leadership of the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion during the interim period.
“With support from the whole Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion staff, Sekile Nzinga has ensured that the Office has continued to support and guide the Northwestern community as we work to foster a truly inclusive and equitable University community,” Hagerty said.