In January, a new vice president for diversity and inclusion will begin work at OU.
The position, which had been filled in an interim capacity by Jane Irungu since August 2018, has been a critical one at OU, particularly in 2019. Multiple racist incidents occurred on campus and in Norman in the spring, and another blackface incident on Sept. 22 prompted frustration toward university administration from OU’s Black Emergency Response Team.
The OU Board of Regents approved the hiring of Belinda Hyppolite in October to fill the position. Hyppolite currently serves as the assistant vice president of student development and enrollment services at the University of Central Florida, and her hiring will take effect in January 2020.
According to Hyppolite’s online bio, she has over 20 years of experience in higher education and has been at UCF since 2004.
Hyppolite told The Daily in an email that she preferred not to interview until after she begins in the position in January, but many who have worked with Hyppolite at UCF said her extensive experience — in multiple aspects of the university administration — make her an ideal candidate for a campus facing diversity challenges like OU’s.
Sheila Amin Gutiérrez de Piñeres, dean of UCF’s Burnett Honors College, said she first met Hyppolite in 2011.
“I found her to be incredibly insightful and attuned to what was going on,” Piñeres said. “She's done so many different things and understands so many different components of diversity and inclusion. You're getting, at OU, someone with an incredible wealth of experience and knowledge that is really ready to make the next step to vice president.”
Aside from her current position, Hyppolite has also served as an adjunct professor, the director of fraternity and sorority life at UCF and held a position at Ohio State University’s multicultural center, Piñeres said.
Christina Khan, director of UCF Global, said Hyppolite’s advocacy for different student groups on campus often takes place outside of her office.
“She's a very visible presence on campus,” Khan said. “She always talks to the students. She's not one that goes to her office, and, you know, no one ever sees her. She's one where, she'll sit and engage with students and talk with them. The setup of her office is so you always know where it’s located.”
Khan said some of Hyppolite’s most public involvement has been her leadership in creating a community presentation to spread awareness and educate students about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status immigration programs. She has also served as the team lead for UCF’s Just Knights Response team, an organization that helps report hate and bias-related incidents on campus.
“She's able to navigate issues in a way that's really thoughtful to all parties involved, regardless of where they stand on their own views, in a way that helps to bridge differences and to make people feel included,” Khan said. “She's so good at that, and it's a very difficult skill for people to develop — she just has it. She's able to talk with people from all different backgrounds and build consensus, and she does that really well.”
Hyppolite’s ability to foster individual relationships with students is one of her defining characteristics, said Alexandra Jean-Louis, a health sciences sophomore at UCF.
Jean-Louis was paired with Hyppolite in a program called the LEGACY Leadership and Mentoring Program. The program is targeted for freshman students, but Jean-Louis said Hyppolite made it a point to stay available.
“She’s another African-American woman, so she just really understands from my perspective leaving home for the first time and trying to adjust to the college lifestyle,” Jean-Louis said. “She always knew the right things to say to me to help guide me through that first year. I appreciated every moment and every piece of advice she gave me. It was all really heartfelt.”
Jean-Louis said that despite Hyppolite’s friendly nature, she is always honest when it comes to the issues facing her community.
“If you don't want someone to sugarcoat anything, and you just want to know how it is,” Jean-Louis said, “she’s really straightforward.”
Piñeres said Hyppolite manages to balance that straightforward approach to campus issues with the ability to communicate with everyone involved on different sides of an issue and explain why she might make certain decisions.
“When she says we're going to do something, it’s for a reason, and everything is educational,” Piñeres said. “It wasn't just, ‘Here's a stick and this is why we're doing it — because you guys did something wrong.’ It was like, ‘Look, this is educational. This is why we're doing it. This is why it's in everyone's best interest.’”
That cooperative approach, Piñeres said, is what she feels makes Hyppolite an effective leader in the many positions she has held at UCF.
“She is so well equipped to handle whatever is thrown at her, but more importantly she is great at bringing a campus along and educating and helping folks see why things work and don't work and why these things make sense,” Piñeres said. “You're not ever being pulled along with (Hyppolite). You are happy to walk alongside her.”
Jean-Louis said she felt Hyppolite was more than ready to take the next step to help a university — and its underrepresented student populations — thrive, despite the challenges OU has faced in the past year.
“She's doing this for a reason, to help black people at our universities excel and continue on their journey in college,” Jean-Louis said. “I think she's prepared for it, and I think her being my mentor, I can definitely say she is a strong person.”
Hyppolite’s departure will leave a noticeable void at UCF, Khan said, but she is hopeful for the impact Hyppolite will have at OU.
“When I learned that she was moving to OU, I was very sad for UCF, just because she is such a strong presence on campus and has impacted so many people,” Khan said. “I know that she's made a huge impact on me personally, too, but I feel like when I learned about the role and what she would be doing, it just — it makes so much sense with who she is and what she's done.”