Catawba task force tapped as 2021 international equity and sustainability finalist

Published 12:09 am Tuesday, November 23, 2021

SALISBURY — Catawba College is in a group of finalists for an international award for the work of a task force on campus.

The college’s Equity, Diversity, Justice and Inclusion Task Force is the crux of the college’s consideration for a racial equity and sustainability award from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. The award winner will be announced in a virtual ceremony on Dec. 9.

The college is part of a small group of finalists, all many times its size, selected from a field of 360 applicants. The other finalists are the University of Utah, Portland Community College, the University of California-Santa Cruz and the entire California State University system.

Task force founder and co-chair Mercedes Quesada-Embid said she applied for the award during her quiet time during late nights, slowly filling out prompts. She was surprised when she got the call the college was a finalist, and doubled down on the surprise weeks later when she found out who the other finalists were.

“I was floored. I couldn’t believe it,” she said.

She said the nod is a piece of validation. The task force was formed in the summer of last year. Quesada-Embid started as a professor at Catawba in the fall of 2019 and she noticed the college did not have an offie of diversity or inclusion.

During social strife in the country last year, Quesada-Embid said she became determined to get something moving with the interim president as the college was searching for its new leader. David Nelson was hired, and she added him to the discussion. She said college leadership was in favor of moving ahead with a task force and asked her to co-chair it.

ChaMarra Saner, another professor at Catawba, also was named a co-chair. Quesada-Embid said the hope is to eventually open the college’s own office of diversity and inclusion.

The task force has also been involved in programming for the college. Quesada-Embid moderated a panel event on race sponsored by the Catawba Black Alumni Network, and the task force itself sponsored several events over the course of the previous year.

“It is an honor and pleasure to be a part of a group of individuals that works so hard to ensure that our students know they have someone to stand beside them, that they are heard and that we will fight for them,” Saner said. “It is even more pleasing to know that the strides that we’ve taken on this initiative have been recognized by such a prestigious organization.”

Quesada-Embid said the first inclination when people think about sustainability is often tangible spaces such as forests, bodies of water and human interactions with them, but economic and social sustainability are important parts of the equation.

The awards program spotlights impactful projects, research and student leadership progressing toward improving “environmental, social and economic health.”