photo of Dr. Brenda Allen
Dr. Brenda Allen
Associate Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion
Office of Diversity and Inclusion

Why did you initially apply to work at CU?

I was recruited to CU from Howard University in 1989, when someone at CU-Boulder heard about me and contacted me to see if I would be interested in applying for a job in their Communication Department. At that point I wasn’t actively seeking employment, I was finishing my doctoral studies at Howard and decided I would at least come and see what Colorado was like.

The department at that time had some of the luminaries of my area of study, which is organizational communication. I thought it would be a nice networking opportunity as well as a chance to come west, young woman. So I got here and they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, and I was also really intrigued by coming to Colorado and the University of Colorado in general but especially CU-Boulder. So that’s how I became employed here.

In about 2001, I decided to apply for a job here on the Denver campus because I was writing a letter of recommendation for a grad student who had applied for a position in that department and in thinking of how she might fit into that department, I realized, “Wow, I could fit there.” And was intrigued by the downtown location by the student body being a lot of first generation students as well as by a lot of my colleagues from the communication program who were in this program. Some of their work aligned with mine, which I had changed. Once I got to CU-Boulder, I changed my area of focus from computer mediated communication to looking at issues of identity and power in communication, so that aligned better with what they were doing over here, so I invited myself and they readily received the invitation.

So I came to this campus in about 2001, and by that time I had gotten tenure and promotion, and when I got here I was promoted to full professor and became a department chair. Then I became an Associate Dean in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Three years ago, I was invited to come into this role, which is basically the Chief Diversity Officer position for the downtown campus and the Anschutz Medical Campus.  

Tell us a little about what you do.

I’ll start with the fact that my, the basic role of my office is to help the campus reach its diversity strategic priorities as stated in our university strategic plan, and that is to enhance diversity university-wide and foster the culture of inclusion. Part of why I agreed to come into the role is because of the diversity strategic priority and all the goals and objectives of that plan are really cutting-edge and comprehensive, ambitious but pretty clear. That is my roadmap, my template. That is where I can say, “How does this initiative help advance the goals of the university?” So that’s my primary role for the campuses.

That includes everything from recruitment, retention, organizational culture, communication, competence, looking at the curriculum in terms of inclusion. The definition of diversity is comprehensive so it encompasses gender, class, age, race, ability, sexuality, religion, nationality, veteran status, socioeconomic status and the intersection of those identities – which, of course, are all very important in contemporary society. The inclusion part of the title means no matter who you are - faculty, staff, student, former or prospective community member, etc. - that you feel included and respected and feel as if not only did someone anticipate you would be here but we’re glad you’re here and you have an affirming experience.

That is quite ambitious and, I think, quite appropriate, given the universities’ mission to prepare our students to be in 21st Century world, which means globalization and being culturally responsive regardless of where you find yourself. I’m excited to be in a position to try to make that happen.

Let’s take this week, for example. The Chancellor wants me to be a member of all full-fledged search committees that are Dean-level and above. This is an example of the full commitment to diversity and inclusion from our campus leadership so that previously search committees could have the option whether or not they might invite me to come in early in their process and talk with them about how they might do recruitment and retention and try to get more diverse candidates in their pool. 

As a member of the search committee for the Dean of the Graduate School, I provided training on unconscious bias to that committee and I also shared with them some guidelines for how we will interact as a committee. That’s the organizational communication background that I bring.

Also this week, I met with two offices I oversee. One on the downtown campus is Educational Opportunity Programs office, which is charged with ensuring that underrepresented ethnic minority students thrive and see themselves as leaders, viable citizens and graduates. That office also helps all students, faculty and staff in terms of contributing to that mission of preparing us to interact humanely and be culturally responsive in our various roles once students leave here but also while we’re here together.

I also oversee the Office of Outreach and Inclusion on the Anschutz Medical Campus, which does a wonderful variety of pipeline programs all the way from middle school forward. It helps students to imagine themselves going into healthcare professions and doing that through a variety of activities, speakers, having them do practice MCAT exams, etc.

Tell us about your favorite project you’ve completed during your time at CU?

I would say my book Difference Matters: Communicating Social Identity is actually a wonderful tangible product of my journey, of my experiences, of the kinds of ways I feel really positive and gratified for how I’ve grown and continue to learn as well as how I’ve been instrumental in helping other people learn and grow within our system CU as well as across the country.

That book is a wonderful product of my interactions starting with my interactions with my wonderful students at CU-Boulder and helping them understand issues of identity in ways that I strive to be invitational and have empathy and frame the issues as we’re all likely to have biases.

We’ve all been in this world where we can’t help but receive messages about whose lives matter more or less than others. Communication is the way we either maintain and conform to the status quo along those lines or how we can disrupt and transform, so that we really optimize the potential for everyone feeling included and valued and respected. 

Part of why I did it was because of the support and mentoring and me feeling valued and resourced by various mentors both at CU-Boulder and when I got here to CU Denver. It’s a tangible product of a variety of things that have happened to me and I feel good about my own agency and my part in it, but I could have never done it without the wonderful network and relationships and again, working with students that has been beyond gratifying to me.

What is your favorite campus/neighborhood location?

One place I like is the library because I just love libraries, period. We have such a good staff at the Auraria Library, who provide great support in my role as scholar and my role as a teacher and role as a member of the campus community. 

I also really love LoDo. Anything from when my friends and I come down every year to do the Race For The Cure, and I’m able to use my parking spot in the building so we’re not driving all around to find parking, or we may go see a show in the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, where I can walk over and pick up the tickets. 

I just love being downtown. I love the urban setting, and that I can go to some of the high-end restaurants for lunch and not pay the dinner prices but still get the extremely good food. Those are some of the things that I enjoy.  One of my nicknames is “Bargain Betty.” I love that I can hop of the 16th Street Mall or just walk over and go up and down the mall and shop in such a variety of stores and get my stimulating the economy done.

What is your favorite area restaurant?

Capital Grill - no, I’m kidding! It really is hard to pick because – that one’s hard it’s really hard for me to say just one because my taste is so eclectic it really depends on what I’m in the mood for. There’s a relatively new seafood place on the corner of Larimer and 15th. It’s called Ocean Prime.

What do you enjoy doing on your spare time?

I really do enjoy getting to catch plays and shows here at the DCPA as well as at the El Centro Su De Theatro. I got introduced to them by working here on campus because we did an event and I became very much a supporter of what they are doing.

My latest thing is listening to audio books.

What is your favorite perk or benefit at CU?

I enjoy the diversity of people I gets to work with on a daily basis at CU. I realize that’s somewhat ironic to say that, considering my role is about ensuring diversity. But just looking at all the different types of students and employees you get to interact with is inspiring.

What would be your one piece of advice for someone interested in working at CU?

At CU, there are really multitudes of ways to have a satisfying work experience and to fulfill your professional and personal aspirations. Each of our campuses are so varied and interesting, and I think that people should consider what each campus has to offer.