Freedom, Pa., native has worked at university for 30 years
by Rob Taylor Jr.
Courier Staff Writer
The New Pittsburgh Courier has learned that alumna and longtime California University of Pennsylvania employee Sheleta Camarda-Webb is now the university’s interim chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer. She started in her new position on Monday, Feb. 15.
Camarda-Webb has been an employee at Cal U since 1991, when she returned to her alma mater as a residence hall director, according to a release from the university provided to the Courier.
Over the past decades, Camarda-Webb has filled a variety of roles in student affairs, residence life and diversity education. Throughout her career, Camarda-Webb’s work has focused on LGBTQA+ issues, power and privilege, race and cultural identity. She has advocated for and informed university policies around topics such as the use of preferred names and gender-inclusive restrooms and housing.
Camarda-Webb has been director of the university’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office since 2015, when it was known as the Office of Multicultural Affairs, the release from the university said. But last summer, it was Camarda-Webb that urged the university to change the DEI Office name from “multicultural affairs” to the “Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion,” which is located on the first floor of Carter Hall, on the campus, which is about 35 miles south of Pittsburgh, towards Uniontown.
“There is nothing wrong with ‘multicultural affairs,’” Camarda-Webb, a Freedom, Pa., native, said in a campus-based article in June 2020, when she was Cal U’s associate director of on-campus living and director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. “But sometimes people focus mainly on race and ethnicity, and we want our campus to be as open and welcoming as possible to all, and for our name to reflect that. We thought that leading with ‘diversity’ was very significant. It applies to race, ethnic culture, nationality, gender—many, many things. We want to consider equity in every facet of the university. How can we provide a quality education for all of our students? Inclusion means that we are all invited to the table.”
Camarda-Webb is a founding member of Cal U’s Safe Zone Allies Program for gay, lesbian and transgender students. In 2019, she was named co-chair of the university’s Presidential Advisers for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
“Each of us holds multiple identities—race, gender and so much more,” Camarda-Webb said in a statement. “We have to be able to live and learn, educate and excel in an environment where we all can be our authentic selves.”
Camarda-Webb also will work with Dr. Denise Pearson, vice chancellor and chief DEI officer for Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education, and her PASSHE counterparts to address issues at the System level.
Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education encompasses 14 schools, including four in the Western Pennsylvania area—Cal U, Slippery Rock University, Clarion University and Indiana University of Pennsylvania. One of the schools is a historically Black college, Cheyney University, near Philadelphia.
The State System took a giant step in advancing its diversity and inclusion efforts systemwide by hiring Dr. Pearson in August 2020 in the newly created vice chancellor and chief DEI officer.
According to the State System, the office is meant to “engage institutional and system leaders to develop, implement, and evaluate outcomes-based strategies that address inequities in all areas including but not limited to student access and achievement; faculty and staff recruitment and development; and campus receptivity. The work will be grounded in, will build upon, and will elevate the promising initiatives and thought leadership already occurring across the universities.“
As Dr. Pearson will work with Camarda-Webb, she also works with lead diversity officers from the local State System colleges: Rogers Laugand (Clarion); Elise Glenn (IUP); and Terrence Mitchell (Slippery Rock).
You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who knows the ins and outs of Cal U better than Camarda-Webb. She earned a bachelor’s degree in social work from Cal U in 1989, but it was in 1986 when she got her first taste of leading fellow students in an official capacity. That year, as a sophomore, she became a resident assistant at Clyde Hall. After she graduated, she worked at Potomac State College, in West Virginia, but returned to Cal U in 1991. Along the way, Camarda-Webb earned a master’s degree in secondary education/social science, as she continued to mentor and uplift the younger students.
Apparently, Camarda-Webb isn’t done with her professional learning. She’s currently enrolled in a master’s degree program in marriage and family therapy at Northcentral University.
Camarda-Webb, according to interim university President Robert Thorn, will be a welcomed presence in his executive leadership team, given her wealth of knowledge about student needs and diversity-based programs. “We must do more than talk about these issues,” Thorn said in a statement. “Diversity, equity and inclusion must be at the forefront of our thinking as we make decisions about our university and its future.”