Making Equity Job No. 1

Dave Merry on how Suffolk is re-envisioning its Career Services Program to build more inclusive workspaces

Interview by Greg Gatlin
Photograph Courtesy of Michael J. Clarke

Associate Provost Dave Merry

Access and opportunity are at the heart of Suffolk’s mission. Dave Merry, associate provost and executive director of the Center for Career Equity, Development & Success, explains how the University is making them a core part of career education.

Q: Tell us why this focus on career equity is so important.

A: College career centers have been doing a lot to try to address inequity, but what that’s often looked like is creating targeted resources for people who are marginalized in the workforce. That’s absolutely necessary, but it ends up creating more work for students, professionals, and mentors who are underrepresented themselves to mitigate those inequities. Black alumni are called on to help Black students who face injustices in the workplace. Students who are disabled are asked to utilize different resources, come to different workshops, and seek out specialized employers. LGBTQI students are required to come out to their advisors just to get resources that are relevant to them.  

This amounts to real work, not only in terms of people hours but also the mental energy required, and it reduces the feeling of inclusion we are trying to build.

Q: So how do you change that?

A: We have always asked people who have been left on the outside to find a way in. What we need is for people who are on the inside to realize that they’re there, and open the door.  

That’s the kind of education that we’re working to infuse in our one on-one advising conversations, our events and workshops, and throughout the Suffolk curriculum. When we talk about being a leader in your professional life, we are also talking about the responsibility we all share to create a more equitable and inclusive workplace.  

Q: What kind of tools can the center provide to help make these changes?

A: Because our faculty are often the front line in talking with students about career education, we want to give them tools to help begin the conversation on how social identity impacts your career path. As students start to hear that message, they will be more receptive to learning about it in other content-specific courses, as well as during internships and capstone classes.  

We have also created a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion toolkit on our website as a resource that can help employers recruit, hire, support, retain, and promote—we want the whole pipeline. We have hired a director of Career Equity & Access, Ade Igbineweka, who speaks with employers to help them generate ideas.

Q: What are some concrete things that you would like to see change in career services?

A: We are really fortunate that there is a pretty equal rate of Suffolk graduates getting a job or going to grad school, regardless of their race and gender. What’s not the same are their salaries, the support they receive on the job, or the amount of inclusion they feel. We need to do better at collecting that data, and looking at their trajectories after graduation.

There is a historic, measurable imbalance in how people who are white and how people who are not white are educated and how they prosper in our economy. That is inarguable. So when we talk about systemic bias, it’s not that people are racist and don’t want to hire people of color. It’s that we’ve created a system where we talk about cultural fit, and we look for people who look like us or who share our similar experiences. And we say, ‘Oh, that person wasn’t a good fit for our organization,’ without saying, ‘Maybe that’s good. Maybe we need somebody who can help our organization change.’


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