Jamie Butler-Chidozie, NCSSM’s new Chief Diversity Officer
Driving from Durham back to the airport in Raleigh, Jamie Butler-Chidozie kept thinking about the student who had participated in her job interview for the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics’ Chief Diversity Officer. On paper, the newly-created position seemed tailor-made for her — Butler-Chidozie’s whole career, from her time as an elementary school teacher in her home state of Indiana to her most recent role as the Executive Director of Diversity, Inclusion & Social Justice at the University of Northern Iowa, has been built around diversity, equity, and inclusion (or DEI) initiatives.
But the student’s love for NCSSM kept coming back to her the most. “She just spoke so passionately about the school,” Butler-Chidozie says. “It just resonated with me and I thought, ‘Wow! If she’s so excited about this place I should be too.’”
Though she wasn’t born or raised in North Carolina, Butler-Chidozie says her visit to campus felt like “coming home.” She had spent 10 years of her life in the state. Taking her father’s advice to land someplace warmer than Indianapolis in the wintertime, Butler-Chidozie headed to East Carolina University straight out of grad school in Indiana to work in residence life. She arrived in Greenville in July, completely unprepared for Carolina summers.
The heat and humidity swamped her. She became so sick with allergies her first two weeks she had to visit a doctor who diagnosed her as a recent transplant to the Southeast. Most difficult, perhaps, was that she had no idea what people were saying: the eastern North Carolina accent was a riddle she couldn’t decipher.
But life in a Southern college town began to click. The heat became bearable. The accents began to make sense. And she loved getting to work with a diverse range of students. In her six years at ECU, Butler-Chidozie served as Coordinator of Campus Living, chaired the Diversity Education Team, co-authored the Graffiti/Offensive Incidents Policy, founded ECU’s still ongoing Culture Fest, and served on the Chancellor’s Diversity Council.
“I really enjoyed my time there and had a lot of opportunities” to work in different areas, she says. “ECU really was the starting point for me transitioning to diversity and inclusion and social justice work full-time.”
Following ECU, Butler-Chidoze moved 150 miles west to Elon University, where she served as the school’s Assistant Director for the Center for Race, Ethnicity, & Diversity Education for the next four years. While there, she created the center’s Black Student Success Program, directed S.M.A.R.T. (Student Mentors Advising Rising Talent) peer-to-peer mentoring program, and organized a number of campus-wide events and programs built around diversity and inclusion. She still hears from former students who credit her efforts at Elon as instrumental in their university experience.
“One of my biggest accomplishments at Elon is students saying that their experience changed for the better because of some of the services I was able to initiate on campus,” she says. “And I’m still in contact with many of those students, even now. They’ve started their own businesses and are on school boards and are really engaging with the community and taking diversity, equity, and inclusion to a community level.”
Though it required a return to frozen winters, the University of Northern Iowa presented Butler-Chidozie with an opportunity to advance her career once again, moving up from the assistant director position she held at Elon to become the Director of UNI’s Multicultural Center. This time Butler-Chidozie had her own staff and an opportunity to build something brand new, almost from scratch.
“‘You really have a clean slate here, so think big,’” she recalls UNI’s provost telling her as she began her role.
She started by reestablishing a mentoring program for first-year and transfer students of color. She also created UNI’s Diversity, Inclusion & Social Justice Week to engage all students in DEI programming. Butler-Chidozie put in place a Campus Response Team through which students, faculty and staff can report bias-related experiences and address them through a restorative justice approach. She also started a grants program to incentivize students to create and engage in diversity programs.
So successful were Butler-Chidozie’s efforts that, in a very short time, she was elevated from being a director with responsibility for one office to the Executive Director of UNI’s Diversity, Inclusion & Social Justice program with responsibility for three offices.
Butler-Chidozie owes her success, and the success of UNI’s DEI programs, to what she calls “the three Cs” approach, which is: collective, collaborative, and cooperative.
But underscoring it all, she says, is the ability to see the good in others. “People genuinely want to see other people be successful, especially in education,” she says. “We want to see students succeed.”
Butler-Chidozie followed her career from the Midwest to the Southeast and back. But as her family grew — four sons under the age of five (the youngest are twins) — she began to think about where she wanted to settle long-term.
North Carolina lingered in her mind.
“It was always in my heart to come back to North Carolina,” Butler-Chidozie says, pointing to the state’s diversity of people, experiences, and cultural opportunities as key factors in why she came to feel so comfortable here. “I was born and raised in Indiana and I consider myself a Hoosier at heart, but North Carolina is home for me. I always said I wanted my children to go to school in North Carolina.”
As a developing career track, senior-level positions in the field of diversity, equity, and inclusion are still quite rare. That’s why Butler-Chidozie’s pulse raced when she saw the posting for the Chief Diversity Officer job at NCSSM. She had a wonderful job at UNI, but she could not shake the desire to head southeast once again. There was nothing to lose in applying for the job.
The interview she got went amazingly well. NCSSM already had several diversity initiatives underway that she found encouraging, but there were still incredible opportunities to grow the programs further and unify them around the three Cs central to Butler-Chidozie’s philosophy.
The feeling she got actually being on campus was encouraging. Never had she set foot on the NCSSM campus before, but by the end of the interview day she already felt like she belonged.
And then there was that student. She had spoken so highly of the school, and with such heart.
Butler-Chidozie was certain before she even got to her rental car in the parking lot: if she was offered the job, she’d take it.
If there was anyone else who was as excited about the fit as Butler-Chidozie was, it was NCSSM’s chancellor, Dr. Todd Roberts. The applicant pool for the job was incredibly impressive across the board. But from the beginning, Butler-Chidozie stood out.
“We had an extremely strong applicant pool,” says Dr. Roberts, “and she was really, from the start and all the way through, one of the top candidates. The feedback on her that was most common was her enthusiasm. She was very engaging and genuine, and she clearly has a strong background and experience in helping to lead DEI efforts.
“I got to interact with her in every step of the process, and on the phone in between, and in every instance, she was the same person. And I was just as impressed as I talked to people she worked with at the University of Northern Iowa about how much of a leader she is on that campus.”
For the hiring committee, the choice was a no-brainer.
“I felt like I was going to leap out of my skin,” Butler-Chidozie says when Dr. Roberts called with the job offer.
That she scored a rare and coveted job that checks all the boxes is astounding to her. That the position is in a state where she longed to be is even more unbelievable. She can’t wait to follow her heart back to where it wants to be.
“Walking around campus I felt like I was where I should be,” Butler-Chidozie says. “I want to make sure everyone at NCSSM feels that and is thriving.”
She starts work June 15. Just like the first time she landed in North Carolina nearly 14 year ago, the heat will be building as Butler-Chidozie pulls into town. She’s ready for it this time, and for the accents, too. And if all goes as she hopes, she’ll never leave North Carolina again.