The Student Voice of Fordham Lincoln Center

The Observer

The Student Voice of Fordham Lincoln Center

The Observer

The Student Voice of Fordham Lincoln Center

The Observer


BREAKING: Rafael Zapata To Leave Fordham

The chief diversity officer served in this role since 2018, when the position was first created
Zapata will step down at the end of the month to focus on his family after five years as the chief diversity officer.

Rafael Zapata, chief diversity officer (CDO) and associate vice president at Fordham, will leave the university at the end of September. Zapata was the first person to hold this position since it was established in 2018.

According to an email from University President Tania Tetlow and Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Dennis Jacobs on Sept. 25, the role will be reimagined following Zapata’s departure. 

“Having gotten through the vagaries of the pandemic, Rafael feels that this is a good time to take a pause in his career to focus on his family, in particular, to care for an aging family member,” the email stated.

Zapata was unavailable to comment prior to publication. Bob Howe, associate vice president for communications and special adviser to the president, and Juan Carlos Matos, assistant vice president for student affairs for diversity and inclusion, both declined to offer additional comment beyond what was stated in the email.

The position of CDO was created at Fordham in 2018 in response to the recommendations of a task force created in 2015 under former University President Joseph M. McShane, S.J., following repeated acts of racial discrimination that occurred the same year. These  included a swastika found painted on a bathroom stall at the Lincoln Center campus and a racial slur being carved into a student’s dorm room door at the Rose Hill campus. 

The task force advised the creation of a standing committee on diversity and inclusion and the designation of the CDO as a senior vice president. McShane elected to designate the position of CDO as an associate vice president, rather than senior vice president, in 2018 when establishing the role, thereby limiting the authority of the role. This decision prompted Amir Idris, professor of history and a representative on the Faculty Senate, to question whether the role was “fated to fail in the job as charged” due to its lack of “the requisite authority, ranks and resources.” 

During his five years at the university, Zapata spearheaded the creation of the Teaching Race Across the Curriculum grant. The grant seeks to “support departmental efforts to thoughtfully and intentionally integrate questions of race into their curricula, both core offerings and within a major or minor” and to “support excellence in the teaching of topics related to race in the curriculum.” In the past year alone, the grant has funded projects such as the summer of 2023’s Butler Gallery exhibition “ERASED//Geographies of Black Displacement” and the newly created Asian and Asian American studies minor, among others.

His tenure as CDO coincided with vast improvements in student body diversity and retention among students of color: In the fall 2022 semester, the university welcomed an incoming class made up of 44% students of color. In addition, the university has “​​all but eliminated race and class disparities in first to second-year retention.”

“Rafael has worked with the Diversity Leadership Team, the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council, and myriad schools, departments, offices, programs, and community partners to catalyze institutional change toward greater diversity, equity, inclusion and community engagement,” Tetlow and Jacobs said. “His collaborative work has helped the University make transformative strides in diversity and inclusion.”

While strides have been made toward diversity, equity and inclusion throughout Zapata’s tenure, the email announcing his departure noted that “we have a long way to go.”

“In speaking with Rafael about taking Fordham to the next level, and in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling and a growing misbelief that the country is “magically” in a post-racial era, it is clear that the position that he was hired for six years ago needs to be re-envisioned,” the email noted.

Tetlow and Jacobs stated that the university will soon appoint an interim to hold Zapata’s role and will begin a national search for the new role after it has been re-envisioned, describing the process as “a moment when Fordham needs to act boldly and lead the way.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article identified Dennis Jacobs as the provost and senior vice president of student affairs. As of Sept. 25, this article has been updated to reflect that Jacobs is the provost and senior vice president of academic affairs.

Leave a Comment
About the Contributors
ANA KEVORKIAN, Former Managing Editor
Ana Kevorkian (she/her), FCLC ’24, is the former managing editor at The Fordham Observer. This is her third year with The Observer, having previously served as head copy editor, and she is so excited to serve the organization which has given her so much in this capacity. When she’s not doing Observer-related tasks, you can find her watching movies (see: “Fordham Cinephiles Can Finally Know Peace”), listening to Taylor Swift, reading and wandering the city aimlessly.
ANGELA CHEN, Photographer

Comments (0)

The Observer reserves the right to remove any comments that contain any of the following: threats or harassment, hateful language and/or slurs, spam (including advertisements unrelated to the topic of a given post), and incoherent phrasing. See the Community Guidelines page under the About tab for more information. Please allow up to a few days for submitted comments to be approved.
All The Observer Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *