Dr. Damon Williams Receives the NADOHE
Dr. Damon Williams, the University of Wisconsin-
Madison’s vice-provost and chief diversity
officer, recently received the NADOHE Inclusive
Excellence Award for Leadership
Although he has accomplished much during his UW-Madison tenure, helping to foster an environment where people feel that change is
possible, Williams is hardly resting on his laurels. He, like many others, has the U.S. Supreme Court on his mind.
Back in October 2012, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Fisher versus University of Texas case, a case that deals with
affirmative action in higher education. Most court observers are expecting a ruling against affirmative action. And most feel that the
Court’s decision is imminent although they have until the end of June, the end of the Court’s current session, to hand it down.
“The courts are going to rule and who knows how they are going to rule,” Williams said. “They are going to rule around race conscious
admissions policies and most experts anticipate there is going to be some constriction in terms of what the institutions can do. How? It’s
nearly impossible to speculate. But what we do know is this. Irrespective of how the courts rule, number one, we will do whatever is
necessary to be compliant with the law. And number two, we will push the boundaries of everything is possible to ensure that we
continue to move our diversity, equity and inclusion agenda forward. We can do nothing less. We’ve got to do both of those things. So we
will comply, but we will push as hard as we can and think creatively about what we do. Do I think that it will have a dramatic negative
impact on some of our programs and efforts on campus? We don’t know exactly, but we feel very good about what we are doing in
admissions, using a holistic admissions process. We feel very good about what we are doing with our diversity programs on campus,
which we think are spot on and in line with the national guidance that exists and if we need to tweak them some, we can tweak them.
But I feel very good about the totality of what we are doing.”
The University of Wisconsin has been watching the trends in Supreme Court rulings and other changes in the affirmative action and
diversity environment. And it has been making adjustments all along to ensure that the university can continue working towards its long-
term goals and mission to be a world-class university providing its students with a world-class education. And it has or is putting the
apparatus in place to facilitate that work.
“I gave a talk in Washington, D.C. at the National Association of Diversity Officers of Higher Education,” Williams said. “One of the things
I did in the talk is I had people respond to this little sheet of paper that asked a lot of questions. One of the questions I asked was, ‘Are
you working on a new diversity plan?’ The second question I asked was, ‘Do you have a response team in place to handle the Fisher-UT-
Austin decisions once they are leveled?’ And across 300-400 people, there were only about 10 institutions that were working on a
diversity plan. And less than five had a committee in place to address Fisher. Madison has both. What’s the title of the book? Strategic
Diversity Leadership. And that is what that means. You don’t wait for the train to wreak. And that doesn’t happen at the will of the chief
diversity officer. That happens at the will of David Ward. That happens at the will of our shared governance leadership team. That is the
will of Provost DeLuca. That happens at the will of our new chancellor Rebecca Blank. And so institutionally, I feel like we are going to
be as well poised as anyone in the nation to be fully responsive.
“I think the bottom line is that we’ve been preparing for this moment for the last several months,” Williams continued. “And as an
institution, we’re going to remain committed irrespective of whatever comes.”
The University of Wisconsin-Madison will continue to control its destiny.
By Jonathan Gramling
Dr. Damon Williams has been busy during the past year. While completing the
creation of the Division of Diversity, Equity and Educational Achievement, which
was formed by bringing together the PEOPLE, Posse, First Wave and other programs
that promote diversity and equity on campus, Williams has also recently published
two books, The Chief Diversity Officer, co-written by Katrina Wade-Golden, and
Strategic Diversity Leadership.
Williams’ efforts were recently recognized by the National Association of Diversity
Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE) at their national convention in Washington, D.
C. on March 5 with the Inclusive Excellence Award for Leadership. And in a shared
governance environment like the University of Wisconsin, Williams was quick to
acknowledge the important contributions that others have made to diversity efforts
"It's an honor to be recognized by my peers and is truly a reflection of the diligence
and institutional commitment of my colleagues at UW-Madison, and elsewhere, who
remain focused on creating campus communities that are inclusive and excellent for
all,” Williams said. “I am humbled to have this recognition and motivated to do even
more, particularly as we move forward with our newest campus-wide diversity
strategic plan at UW-Madison."