Vice President for Equity and Inclusion to leave university on July 1


Olivia Kettell, Executive Producer

Quinnipiac University’s Vice President for Equity, Inclusion and Leadership Development, Don Sawyer, will be leaving the university on July 1 to begin a new position at Fairfield University. 

According to an email from Quinnipiac President Judy Olian on January 23, Sawyer will join Fairfield as the first Vice President for Equity, Inclusion and Belonging. Fairfield selected him through a national search, and he plans to play a major role in shaping inclusive excellence at the university.  

“It’s an inaugural role at the institution – no one has ever done it officially. I’ll be going in and building it from scratch,” Sawyer said. “It came from the voices of the community that there was something that was needed.”

Sawyer’s work at Fairfield will be similar to the work he has done at Quinnipiac but will have an added focus on community engagement. However, he will also be responsible for building up the new department.

“[Fairfield doesn’t] have a department like we have here, and so I’ll have to hire a staff and build a team and also work with them to kind of create an inclusive, excellent vision for the institution,” Sawyer explained. 

In recent years colleges and universities have been looking to increase their work with diversity, equity and inclusion, according to Sawyer. Experts in this field are contacted by schools through search firms as more positions arise.

“You start to see a lot more positions going out, but there weren’t that many people who could fill those roles,” Sawyer said. “That’s how it came to be, a talk with a search firm, and I decided to toss my hat into the ring and see where it went.”

During his 11 years at Quinnipiac, Sawyer also spent time as a sociology professor before his work in administration and has worked to ensure that diversity and inclusion are built into the fabric of the institution. Sawyer has done this by adding the 10-point plan for racial justice and various support platforms for students to discuss important issues. After hitting the 10-year mark at Quinnipiac, Sawyer explains that he began to think more about what his next steps would be.

 “Once I hit the 10-year mark here, you know, you start to think about what would happen next… is there something else that I can do here, or is there someone else that can come in and take us to a new level?” Sawyer said. And so you weigh these different options.”

 Although Sawyer has been approached regarding new jobs in the past, they were not jobs that he felt “in his spirit” that he was meant to do at that time. In considering the new role at Fairfield, he wanted to ensure that it was the right time and that he could leave Quinnipiac in a good place.

 “I think I’ve always been mindful of the fact that there’s a difference between a job that you can do and the job that you’re meant to do,” Sawyer said. “And it just so happened that the timing for this, it came at a good time where I considered it, but it was a long process. I had to really reflect on, is this the right time for me?”

Another component of his decision was whether he felt he had done all he could do at Quinnipiac and how he could ensure he left the university in a good place.

“If you can look back and say that there are things that are better as a result of you being there, then you can leave with a clear conscience,” Sawyer said. “And if I’m honest with myself, I think there are a lot of things that we have accomplished over the years here… that I can look back and say that I believe that the institution has become a better place as a result of some of the work that I’ve done in partnership with members of this community.”

Once the email from President Olian was sent out, Sawyer said he received many texts and emails from people around campus letting him know about something he did that mattered to him. That was the moment when it “became real” for him.

“I’ve always believed in two things: do good work and treat people well. And I don’t think you can go wrong if you do that,” Sawyer said. “That’s something that I’ve tried to do here. I’m sure I’ve had some hiccups and missteps, but all in all, I try to do good work, treat people well, and just really be grateful for the community that I was able to build here.” 

According to the statement from President Olian, Associate Provost Khalilah Brown-Dean will be leading the search to fill Sawyer’s position, ideally by July 1, and continue the work he has started.

“I think QU is in a good place. And hopefully, the next person that comes in July is going to take it to levels that we’ve never seen before,” said Sawyer. “If I can have a role in making sure that that transition goes as smooth as possible, I make myself available for that.”