The city of Rochester has hired its first-ever director of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Chao Mwatela, who currently serves as a multicultural and academic advisor at Rochester Community and Technical College, said she is excited and honored to join the city, especially in its efforts toward building a community of equity.

"I look forward to working with all the individuals and organizations already engaged in this work," Mwatela said. "In community, we can create a city that embraces diversity, is inclusive in all its practices, and equity is normalized.”

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“One of the city’s foundational principles is social equity," said Rochester Mayor Kim Norton. "We continue to focus on and increase our efforts, internally and externally, on diversity, equity and inclusion."

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Mwatela, who holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff and is working towards a master's degree in organizational leadership, starts her new position on Feb. 25.

Tasks for the new director of DEI include providing leadership to foster and advance an organizational culture and a community climate that embrace diversity, equity and inclusion as core values. Mwatela will also provide strategic guidance to city leadership and community partners for the development and implementation of equitable city policies, projects, programs and processes in all facets of organizational work.

In the past, she served as a community co-designer for the downtown Discovery Walk project.

The Post Bulletin reached out to Mwatela to discuss her new position with the city and her goals moving forward.

What are some things you've seen in the past year in the community that are positive signs toward diversity, equity and inclusion?

In the past year, I have been encouraged to see many individuals and organizations working towards an equitable and inclusive Rochester community. I have seen the youth engage civically, organizations both public and private intentionally seek out diversity, equity and inclusion training as well as critically examine policies such as hiring and retention practices. I have also been a part of an innovative approach to engaging all members of the Rochester community in a meaningful way through the Discovery Walk Co-Design process. I am also encouraged by the city's decision to create this position as it shows a new and intentional commitment to this work.

Are there some negatives that have concerned you during that same time?

The persistent inequities and disparities in all sectors of our community will always concern me, as it should every community member. These disparities are prevalent in education, housing, healthcare, access to banking and finance, etc.

Where do you think your efforts will go first to make the most difference right away?

I believe my first efforts should be focused on understanding the scope of the work that individuals and organizations are already doing in the community towards social equity and how to best support and collaborate in those efforts. Additionally, it will be important to engage with all communities in Rochester in order to find out what their needs and priorities are.

Are there other communities that are making good progress with diversity, equity and inclusion that we can model our efforts after?

There are many communities that are making good progress in an effort to create social equity and have created strategic plans and models that we can learn from. It is important to note though, that each community is unique, and it is important to understand our own community and its needs before implementing any processes that others may have used successfully.