LaVar Charleston Named UW–Madison’s Next Chief Diversity Officer

LaVar Charleston, associate dean for diversity and inclusion in the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is pictured on State Street in Madison, Wisconsin on June 29, 2020. (Photo by Bryce Richter / UW-Madison)

Dr. LaVar Charleston

By Doug Erickson

LaVar Charleston, an innovative leader and accomplished researcher with nearly two decades of experience related to diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education, has been named to lead the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s diversity and inclusion efforts.

Charleston will serve as the university’s chief diversity officer, also holding the titles of deputy vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion, vice provost, and Elzie Higginbottom Director of the Division of Diversity, Equity and Educational Achievement (DDEEA). He will begin on August 2.

“This is a role of utmost importance as we continue to work toward a day when every member of our campus community is able to thrive, with no barriers to success,” says Chancellor Rebecca Blank. “Dr. Charleston thoroughly understands the challenges ahead and brings a comprehensive and impressive set of skills to address them. I’m excited to see where his leadership takes us.”

Charleston currently serves as the inaugural associate dean for equity, diversity and inclusion at UW–Madison’s School of Education, where he is a clinical professor of higher education in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. He earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. from the department in 2007 and 2010, respectively.

“It is with gratitude and a deep sense of responsibility that I take on this new role,” Charleston says. “UW–Madison means so much to me — it’s where I grew as a scholar, a researcher and an administrator. I want every member of the campus community to feel welcome, accepted and supported here.”

In his new position, Charleston will provide overall leadership for the university’s efforts to create a diverse, inclusive and successful learning and work environment for all students, faculty, staff, alumni and others who partner with the university. He will partner with schools, colleges and other administrative units across campus while supervising the units that comprise the DDEEA.

South Madison’s Early Childhood Learning Center Inc. Closes Its Doors

After more than 30 years in South Madison, Early Childhood Learning Center (ECLC) will close its doors on July 22nd. One of few providers offering care for infants as well as pre-school and school aged children, ECLC developed and nurtured a unique and enduring relationship with families who sought culturally diverse, welcoming and affordable care, educational programming for their children, and support not always available at other centers.

The Early Childhood Learning Center affectionately known as “ECLC” was not just a place for parents to drop off their children - it has been a place for family and community engagement. Founder Joyce Johnson Boggess began providing care primarily for children of color who were often viewed as “difficult” by some Madison daycare providers. Over time, parents from throughout Madison came to seek the special connection and warm welcome they received at ECLC, as well as the Center’s approach to learning and growing.

Incorporated in 1994 as a non-profit organization, ECLC engaged the community in supporting its mission to provide children with opportunities for academic achievement and personal growth. Hero Day was an annual celebration honoring parents and members of the community-at-large who are every day role models; Ethnic Festival encouraged children to research and share their family and cultural backgrounds. In 1996 the Center created a community garden - named by the students who planted and tended it, the “Garden of Eatin’. “ Project JAMAD was an exceptional extension of ECLC’s mission founded by Dr. Zachary Cooper.  For more than a decade the Project offered ECLC students opportunities to learn through travel with annual cultural trips to Jamaica.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, with declining enrollments, and staffing challenges, Mr. Amir Jafarnejad COO and Ms. Boggess made the difficult decision to close the Center. “I am 82 years old. Why am I still working?” Ms. Boggess said. “I love what I do and we are concerned about the loss of affordable care, especially for infants. Mr. Jafarnejad and I have had the pleasure to work with an incredible staff, teacher and board members beautiful children and their remarkable families. But, after more than 30 years, for me, it’s time.”

The center has been a stable Madison fixture for many years, providing support for children and families whose needs call for that extra level of care. In 1997, Early Childhood Learning Center received the Dane County Small Business Award; in 1999 Ms. Boggess was honored with the J. Martin Wolman Outstanding Service for Youth Award; and, in 2001 she was selected to serve as part of a U.S. delegation to Cuba to address early childhood education. Ms. Boggess has served on numerous community boards, including A Fund for Women and Commonwealth Development, and recently as the Chair of Arbor Covenant Church “A worshipping community that values each person’s life story and their personal relationship with God.  “Miss Joyce” as she is known by most in the community says she will continue to work in some fashion with children – albeit her own seven great grandchildren “ages 6mos to15 years.”