Ledford Named Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
By Stacy Kish
Ayana Ledford’s incredible energy and deep commitment to community engagement have helped to build a more diverse, equitable and inclusive culture at the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences over the past three years.
In recognition of the progress she has made and her growing responsibilities, Ledford has been named the college’s first full-time associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion, effective July 1.
“Ayana is an amazing colleague, and an amazing person,” said Richard Scheines, Bess Family Dean of the Dietrich College. “We met in 2015 after a Dietrich town hall on racism, when we were just starting to try to create some structure within which to improve meaningfully in DEI at Dietrich. She not only offered advice, but offered to get personally involved. I jumped at the chance, and after three months was so impressed that I vowed to find the money to hire her full time – which I did! Ayana has provided thoughtful and informed leadership which has already meaningfully moved the needle on faculty hiring, diversifying our graduate student population and on helping us create effective teams at the department level. It goes almost without saying that we have much, much more work to do, but I am extremely grateful to have Ayana's help in doing it.”
In 2006, Ledford joined Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy as the founding executive director of the Program for Research & Outreach on Gender Equality in Society (PROGRESS). PROGRESS’ vision is to pursue gender equity and foster positive societal change for all women and girls through education, partnerships and research. She later assumed a split appointment as director of diversity and inclusion for the Heinz and Dietrich colleges, where she led the development of their strategic plans for diversity, equity and inclusion. Ledford will continue to lead PROGRESS, which is now a part of the Dietrich College.
Ledford grew up in a large household. While they faced economic and social challenges, there was no shortage of love. All of her siblings participated in post-secondary education due to the encouragement of her family.
“There was no guide for my siblings or me to follow on what to do after high school. The main piece of advice was to finish. Although we all finished high school, college [from applying, receiving financial aid, completing a bachelor’s program] was all through trial and error. Not all of us finished college for several reasons. While my life was fraught with challenges as an adolescent, this is one of my many personal motivations to pursue this work and drive towards successful outcomes,” she said.
Ledford has focused her career on ways to help people born into a system of disadvantage by identifying ways to dismantle obstacles that are on the path to success.
“If you are not aware of possibilities, it is hard to make future goals,” she said. “Everyone has the potential to be successful however they define it.”
Ledford attended Dickinson College where she earned her undergraduate degrees in sociology and a biology minor. She continued in her graduate studies at the University of Pittsburgh, where she completed a master’s degree in social work specializing in community, organization and social administration.
Before joining CMU, Ledford served as a community-based organizations such as Wireless Neighborhoods and the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation and focused closing the educational achievement gap in economically challenged communities. She has over 20 years of experience working for nonprofit and academic organizations designing, implementing and evaluating programs to increase leadership and talent diversity in academia, nonprofit and corporate sectors. As a highly sought out speaker, Ledford has provided over 500 presentations on gender and racial equity, inclusive classroom best-practice for all abilities, recruiting and retaining diverse talent.
At CMU, Ledford has helped the institution look inward to improve efforts to develop a more inclusive space.
“Every organization has imperfections,” said Ledford. “CMU has shown great willingness to examine them with humility to work toward developing a more inclusive space. It is a milestone in Carnegie Mellon’s history to hire leadership for the university and at each college to lead in the continual effort to develop plans for broader, measurable goals to build a more just, equitable and inclusive community.”
Under Ledford’s leadership, Dieterich College released its first Strategic Plan for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in 2020.
“The strategic plan is a living document that provides a roadmap for the college to follow in its efforts to strengthen its community in many dimensions. While the process was daunting to get to this point, it was joyful to have a team of colleagues contributing towards this effort,” said Ledford. “It indicates that everyone sees their role in this work because it is never really a one-person job, and we are now seeing changes that are necessary to build an inclusive community.”
A few of Ledford's accomplishments include forming Diversity Advisory Council that provides the dean with advice and counsel on DEI initiatives and issues. She then launched a DEI Implementation Committee to provide oversight on diversity, equity and inclusion issues for the college and facilitate communication and accountability. She implemented programming for first-year orientation, new faculty onboarding and seminars for departments to build awareness and strategies towards building a more welcoming community. In addition, the college has incorporated procedural changes to minimize bias during new hire searches to expand the scope of scholarship.
Ledford also has been instrumental in developing, supporting and enhancing programming that makes the college more accessible to low-income, first-generation and/or underrepresented students. Many of these programs have been developed in partnership with faculty and staff from within the college and around the university.
For example, the Dietrich College has launched two programs that engage Pittsburgh-area high school students in the humanities and arts — LEAP and the Arts Greenhouse. Scheduled to launch in fall 2021, LEAP is a high-quality, intensive year-round outreach program offered in partnership with the College of Fine Arts. Founded in 2003, the Arts Greenhouse fosters the expressive and intellectual development of Pittsburgh’s youth. The program engages students in a variety of creative forms including creative writing, performance, visual arts and technological arts.
In addition, the college is lifting talent and promoting interdisciplinary scholarship among a diverse group of doctoral students as it welcomes its inaugural Dietrich Scholars cohort in the fall 2021. This fellowship program provides a pathway to success through financial support, opportunities to expand networks and professional development.
Ledford also serves on the Climate Task Force and Core Competencies committee with its dual foci on Intercultural and Global Learning and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the Centered for Shared Prosperity for the university.
"I have to give credit to the students, faculty and staff that contribute to our efforts through advocacy and thoughtful critiques. They go beyond just naming the situations that hinder their ability to be authentically immersed in the community but offer recommendations. It is essential to have these institutional partners drive structural change," said Ledford. "After all, making progress on building an inclusive, equitable and diverse encompasses the careful considerations made in the daily operations of the institution."
Those interested in following Dietrich’s progress toward its strategic plan can view updates online and through The Garden newsletter, which highlights how diverse individuals are uniquely connected and thriving together across the college.