“The tip of the spear”

Dr. Angela Spranger tells all as new Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer

~Anna Dorl, Editor-in-Chief~

Dr. Angela Spranger is no stranger to the Christopher Newport community. For years, she has served as an assistant professor in the Luter School of Business. But this year, she has taken on a new role: the university’s first Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer offering direct assistance to President Trible. The position has never existed before Spranger filled it earlier this summer, which she describes as “a gift and a blessing.” Recently, she sat down for an interview discussing what this position involves and the positive changes she expects as a result of it.

“This is a career position for me,” she said. This is the kind of thing that I would only have dreamed of being able to do.”

During the short time in which she has held her new position, Spranger has made it her mission to champion and uplift the unheard while working towards a more inclusive Christopher Newport University, approaching each conversation with honest intentions.

“I want to make sure all of the voices are heard and honored,” she said. “Sometimes you can’t necessarily do everything that a certain contingency wants, but you can at least hear them and treat them with respect, and document that they have been heard, and that they acknowledge that they have been heard… [It’s] becoming a question that I ask now, because people feel free to say a lot of things to me: ‘Do you feel like you have been heard?’”

When asked what prompted the need for this position to be greeted, she responded, “It just became glaringly and abundantly clear to [President Trible] and everybody else at the top levels of administration and the board that they needed somebody to manage our diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. They needed somebody to be the tip of the spear.”

Spranger has one colleague with whom she shares some of her workload, Derick Stephenson Jr., the Coordinator for the Community Captains program at Christopher Newport. In the near future, she expressed that she will be hiring interns with fellow positions.

Spranger says that working with students is the most enjoyable part of her job, but that dealing with the emotion and anger that is pent up behind the issues she works to resolve is hard. However, she views both aspects of her job as equally impactful.

When asked about what exactly her position entails, Spranger said that the simple answer to that question can be found in a CNUTalks video in previous months in which she introduced a model she created called the 5 C’s of Organizational Behavior — communication, collaboration, culture, change and conflict. “That’s what I do on a daily basis,” Spranger said with a laugh. In relation to students, CNU human resources, faculty members and others she interacts with, she combines each of these skills to work most effectively with each of them on a dynamic level.

“A lot of the stuff I do is behind the scenes. Not everything is visible until it’s all visible,” she continued. “Lots of meetings, lots of phone calls, lots of coordination across the university.”

Spranger is only seven weeks into being Christopher Newport’s first Diversity, Equity and Inclusion officer at the time this article was written, and she describes her journey so far as “building the plane while I’m in flight.” She added she does not teach any classes this semester in order to give her full attention to her new position.

“I want [the Christopher Newport community] to know I mean it. This is not an act or a performance,” she said. “Whatever the circumstances of where we’ve started this year, we are headed towards a more inclusive and equitable Christopher Newport. This matters… That means change, and change is hard… [But] I’d rather build relationships than burn bridges.”

Spranger spoke about the tumultuous summer of 2020, in which she described how “heartbreaking” it was to see the “moral decline” of Americans willing to justify the discrimination and death of individuals based on their skin color or beliefs.

“Black lives matter — of course, I’m a black woman!” she said. “I’m more confident about my influence on the students than the world.” And Christopher Newport, of course, is a great place to start.

Spranger hosted the university’s first DEI Dialogue session in recent weeks entitled “Seen, Safe, and Valued at CNU: Policing and Social Justice” over Zoom online. The event featured panelists who shared their feelings and experiences with local police departments and the Black Lives Matter movement, with the effort for each participant to hear and respect one another. Spranger has developed a month-by-month plan for a continuation of the DEI Dialogue series at Christopher Newport. She encourages students to keep their eyes peeled for emails about the schedule and how to access the upcoming event streams online.

Spranger is also currently working with Christopher Newport’s IT department and as well as OCPR to rebrand and revamp the current diversity and inclusion website to make it DEI-centered. The goal is for the website to become a place of active interaction, which she hopes to have up and running by the end of September 2020. She also plans to have a reading/book club series starting with “So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo in October, and encourages a student group to take the lead if they are interested.
Finally, Spranger wants to encourage the Christopher Newport community to allow for space and grace, and to understand that positive change is on its way. “It’s coming,” she said. “Watch and see — much is happening. CNU is ready.”

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