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Living Forward

Noted Diversity Scholar Helps Lead Campus Through Grief

By Chris Carroll


When the position of chief diversity officer for the University of Maryland opened in January, it was nearly a given that Roger L. Worthington would be asked to apply.

He’s a nationally known scholar in diversity and inclusion, editor of the field’s academic journal and a veteran administrator who co-authored the professional standards for diversity officers in higher education.

But Worthington, chair of the Department of Counseling, Higher Education and Special Education, agreed only to help lead a candidate search committee. 

After the panel identified several contenders, however, university leaders made a final plea, and Worthington relented. Other committee members agreed unreservedly, and in early July, he was named interim associate provost and chief diversity officer, a position that soon will be elevated to vice presidency status.

“The search committee, Provost [Mary Ann] Rankin, and I are very appreciative Professor Worthington accepted the call to service in these fraught times,” UMD President Wallace Loh wrote to the campus.

So why did Worthington end up accepting a job he never sought?

The answer lies in two recent instances of grief: one private, one shared.

Worthington came to UMD from the University of Missouri-Columbia in August 2014, less than a year before his wife, Maria del Rosario Gutierrez, a UMD Counseling Center psychologist, succumbed to pancreatic cancer. Worthington was left a widower raising their two young children.

“My personal tragedy prompted me to maintain a commitment to my kids and my family,” Worthington says. “I was not going to pursue a position like this that would change the nature of my priorities.” 

The May 20 murder of Richard Collins III turned his perspective outward. Collins, an African-American Bowie State University senior and newly commissioned Army lieutenant, was fatally stabbed on campus. The suspect charged in the crime, a then-UMD student, had joined a racist Facebook group, and many observers suspect hate led to the killing.

On a campus seeking healing and assurance that everyone is equally valued, Worthington realized that he had something to offer beyond professional expertise.

In 1969, his father, an Army warrant officer, was killed in combat in Vietnam. As a young Mexican-American boy from a poor household in the gritty end of Orange County, Calif., he took for granted a life of dim prospects. “A college education was never discussed as part of my future,” he says.

Worthington even dropped out of high school, but when his older brother began using his father’s veterans benefits to attend college, it motivated him to reenroll. He found that he had an aptitude in psychology and eventually received a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from the University of California-Santa Barbara.

He made his mark in his field at the University of Missouri, both as a researcher and as chief diversity officer from 2006–11, and was a founding board member of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education.

Worthington’s low-key warmth, humor and listening ability help him connect, and his knowledge, creativity and determination allow him to effect greater campus equity and inclusion, says a longtime colleague and friend.

“You’ve hired someone who can see the systemic issues that exist, and approach them in very real ways, and encourage that healing that needs to go on,” says Shirley Collado, president of Ithaca College. 

The ethic that he has applied to his own life, particularly in times of pain, could apply to UMD as well, Worthington says.

“Live forward,” he says. “We’re never going to get over this, but we can continue on and not be defined by tragedy. We can decide to fight injustice and improve the lives of others, or we can get lost in the grief.”

Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications for the University of Maryland community on weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.