Dr. Torsheika Maddox Is the the Inaugural Senior Operations Officer and Chief of Staff for UW-Madison’s DDEEA: Made to Order
Dr. Torsheika Maddox has been at UW-Madison for almost 20 years, earning two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. along the way before working in DDEEA for the past six years.
By Jonathan Gramling
Part 2 of 2
It’s uncanny how some people meet the needs of a position so perfectly that it seems that either the position was tailored to them or they had been working all of their lives for the position. When Dr. Torsheika Maddox took on the role of senior operations officer and chief of staff for the UW-Madison Division of Diversity, Equity and Educational Advancement, DDEEA, it seems as if Maddox was made to order for the job.
It’s as if her life’s experience, work and training have led her to this position. Maddox will essentially be the
number two person under Dr. Cheryl Gittens, the UW-Madison interim chief diversity officer and leader of DDEEA. And she has seen life from so many ways that relate to what DDEEA does that she should be readily able to adapt to the competing demands and keeping “the trains running on time” that any number two in an organization is responsible to do.
While Maddox’s advanced degrees are in sociology and public health, she feels that they give her the paradigmatic framework to anticipate and understand the issues that work against student success.
“My research background focused on discrimination and health,” Maddox said. “I wanted to understand the ways in which discrimination impacted health. If you look at it from more of a macro level, it’s really trying to understand how do social processes or social structures impact health outcomes. If you think about it more broadly, the line of thinking or the same approach that you would apply to understanding these social forces and health outcomes apply to thinking about social forces and educational access or outcomes. What are the things that are happening in our broader society either impede the access of a particular group or makes it challenging for one group or another to fully participate in a higher education experience? And so this training is directly applied to my thinking about how do we support students to success. So while the substantive area may have been slightly different, the theoretical thinking and framework are very much the same.”
The mission of the DDEEA is a tripartite one. The first is the most visible role as the home for many of the university’s pipeline programs.
“You very well know the work of our students and pipeline programs like PEOPLE and what is now known as the Mercile J. Lee Scholarship Program, which houses the Chancellor’s and Powers-Knapp Scholarships, the Posse Program, which brings in students from all across the country, our Student Support Services, CeO, First Wave and McNair Scholars,” Maddox said. “In all of these spaces, we are helping to support a multitude of students from a variety of backgrounds, including racial minorities, students with disabilities and first generation students, really giving them that wrap around, high touch support to help support them to success.”
Less known is the work that the division does on behalf of university employees, the second part of its mission.
“I was the director for the Office of Strategic Diversity Planning & Research,” Maddox said. “And I also recently oversaw the Office of Affirmative Action Programming & Planning. Some of the work that has been done in those spaces is really helping to support employees and understanding how the CDO can support employees here at the University. And so OSDPR is preparing for the Campus Climate Survey in the fall. It has done the survey out of our office. But it is really playing a strong collaborative role with other units by creating a community of practice around campus climate. Our Affirmative Action area is helping to lead other system EEO officers in understanding our Affirmative Action data and all of the work there. And I would remiss if I didn’t speak about our employee disability relations who have been supporting our employees tremendously while we have been in a remote way during COVID-19 to make sure that our employees have what they need to support the work of our students and to support employees on campus. And LCICE is providing high touch education to not only university employees
and students, but also to the greater Madison community as well.”
And true to her working-class roots, Maddox takes a special interest in seeing that the needs and interests of the university’s second and third shift employees are taken into account.
“One of the key things, even when I was creating the Diversity Inventory, it was very critical for me to get the voice of all employees because without our second and third shift employees, the operations of the university would grind to a halt,” Maddox emphasized. “It’s kind of like you hear the common colloquialism where you have an employee who retires and all of a sudden, your plants are starting to lilt and the coffee isn’t getting refilled because you didn’t understand all of what that employee was doing. And so even when I was creating the Diversity Inventory, I made sure to have listening sessions during the second and third shift time. I wanted to hear the voice and the need of our second and third shift employees. I worked with Cultural Linguistic Services, Carmen’s shop, to make sure that everything was translated so that folks could participate in their native tongue and understand in their native language if that was easier. I want to make sure that all of us feel appreciated and understood. No matter at what level we are at this university, it takes all of us to ensure that the proverbial train keeps running.”
And the third part of the mission is to work on general issues of diversity and inclusion across the campus.
“We are already doing great work,” Maddox said. “But this is to help enhance the work of our programs and units and to support the CDO in executing the broader campus vision and campus diversity framework. I think it is important that all of our campus community knows just how much the CDO, but also the DDEEA supports all of our communities of color on campus, especially our Black and BIPOC folks during these challenging times. If nothing else, I think our focus has just been wanting to wrap our proverbial arms around the community during these times. Together we can stand.”
What will aid in DDEEA’s ability to have a broader perspective on the campus’ diversity efforts is the completion of the Diversity Inventory, which Maddox helped initiate five years ago.
“This is our inaugural year when we’ve been launching in an anomalous year given the pandemic. And so up until this point, our community members have been
inputting information for us to make sure that this works in a way that is easy to access, making sure that any community member who uses a screen reader can access this data as well. What we are looking forward to is to seeing more broadly what we are all doing on campus. Where are these pockets of excellence and success that we can further support and broaden across the University? These are some of the things that we will be keeping a keen eye on towards the end of the year.”
Maddox is excited to be sat the hub of everything that is going on in the division.
“We have our student programs and our administrative units that are supporting both our students and employees,” Maddox said. “I get the opportunity to keep an eye on the broader structure to make it easier for our programs and our units to continue in the great work that they are already doing and fostering the internal connections in that way.”
While there are a lot of working parts to DDEEA, it is easy for Maddox to keep her bearings and focus.
“The focus is always the students,” Maddox emphasized. “They are our next generation. They are our future leaders. And we can’t focus on the students and forget the employees because our administrative staff are the ones who are providing that wrap around service while our faculty are teaching and training the future minds. And we sure enough can’t forget about the folks who are keeping the daily operations of the university moving forward, our second and third shift employees, we couldn’t do it without them either. Really, in my mind, all of these pieces are interconnected and work together in such a way that I can help keep the trains going on time and ensure that our students have everything that they need to be successful.”
With Dr. Torsheika Maddox in the mix, the students of DDEEA will remain on the right track to attain success.