NACOGDOCHES, Texas — As a kindergartener at an elementary school in southeast Houston, Dr. Michara Delaney-Fields fell in love with the world of education and aspired to hold an important position within it one day.
Her dream has since come true several times over, most recently when she was selected to serve as Stephen F. Austin State University’s new assistant dean of the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.
“In this role, it is my goal to create a network of caring responses to our diverse student body,” Delaney-Fields said. “This would be enacted by ensuring critical services and programs are accessible to all students, as well as increasing their knowledge of the resources available to them.”
The office houses a number of student service-based areas on campus, including, Counseling Services, Disability Services, Veterans Resource Center and Health Services.
“We want to ensure that we are meeting the students where they are, that we are providing our students with the skills necessary for this global society and equipping them with the ability to be culturally responsive and sensitive through our diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.”
Delaney-Fields received a bachelor’s degree in health studies and two master’s degrees, one in health education and the other in human performance and kinesiology, from Texas Southern University. During her formative years in higher education, she saw what was once a passion grow into a future.
“The biggest educational transformation for me was the observation and teachings of my department head as a young professional,” Delaney-Fields said. “I watched her have a daily effect on students and administrators. It was then that I decided my goal, despite previous leanings and plans, was to obtain my doctorate in higher education.”
To that end, Delaney-Fields was successful, going on to receive a doctoral degree in educational leadership from Prairie View A&M University.
For more than 11 years, Delaney-Fields has served in various capacities as an educator, advisor and mentor. She began her professional career as a teacher in the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District, teaching in the K-12 public school system for two years before transitioning to higher education.
“I have formed an unbreakable bond with this career,” Delaney-Fields said. “Although it is challenging, it is far more rewarding. I fell in love with being able to connect with students, faculty, staff and others in ways that enhance, develop and encourage a positive experience. Education has always been my passion, but it is humbling when it becomes your purpose.”
In 2017, Delaney-Fields and her family, moved to Albany, Georgia, where she served as interim dean of students, interim vice president for student affairs, and assistant vice president for student affairs and student engagement at Albany State University. This also is where she met her husband, John Fields Jr., SFA’s new chief of police.
“Dr. Fields comes to us with Texas roots and senior-level leadership in the field of student affairs,” said Dr. Adam Peck, SFA’s dean of student affairs. “We had an impressive field of candidates, but she really stood out among this group. In addition to her remarkable qualifications, she also has the personal qualities that are going to assist her in our mission.”
Creation of the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion officially puts a name to a long-held university mission that considers the student body’s ethnic, ability-centered, racial and background diversity first in all ways possible.
“This can include students who are in crisis, struggling with counseling issues, injured on or off campus, or who are part of our underrepresented populations,” Delaney-Fields said. “The intent of this position is to foster an open and welcoming environment where our students, faculty and staff of all backgrounds can learn, work and serve while embracing all human differences and building on the commonalities.”
SFA’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion is a revamped version of the university’s former Office of Student Support Services. As part of the office’s internal restructuring, it now houses the Office of Multicultural Affairs and no longer includes the direct responsibility of coordinating Title IX office operations.
However, regardless of the name’s alteration, “equity, diversity and inclusion have always been a part of the mission of areas like Disability Services, community standards, Counseling Services and other areas this position oversees,” Peck said.
“Though Dr. Fields has only been at SFA a short time, we've already had broad conversations about our short- and long-term goals for this position,” Peck added. “Our first priority is to help her meet and interact with as many members of our community as possible. Ultimately, our ‘north star’ is to make the experiences of all of our students better. We want to play a role in attracting diverse students, faculty and staff and ensuring that they feel well supported at SFA.”
Delaney-Fields is glad to be back in her home state and says she is already in love with Nacogdoches’ friendly community. She also is excited to help shape the restructured office in campus-wide, positive ways.
“Diversity is a call toward action,” Delaney-Fields said. “To enact diversity, we must be inclusive. To be inclusive, we must be equitable. Diversity and inclusion should not make a majority of our students feel intruded upon or a minority of our students feel neglected. It should be natural and business as usual. This position will create this network of caring responses for all of our students through the SFA Way, which highlights the five principles of respect, caring, responsibility, unity and integrity.”