Patricia “Trich” Harris, director of education, operations and new initiatives for the university’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, describes herself as a “professional troublemaker.”
“It’s not a ways of things here,” Harris said. “Just speaking the truth to power and having the courage to stand up for what I feel is right and against injustice.”
This common thread emerges throughout Harris’ extensive career in higher education.
She said she had always been interested in working on a college campus, and a large part of the way she decided to focus her work on equity and addressing inequality was from attending Savannah State, the oldest historically black public college or university in her home state of Georgia.
“I just remember when I first walked into campus I felt like I belonged there, I felt like home,” Harris said. “As the first person in my family who went to college, I had no idea what I was doing. When I entered campus I was hugged. I got to know my family. I wanted to be a part of that journey for other students.”
Since 2002, Harris has worked at several higher education institutions on the East Coast. In 2017, she began working at UNC as a Recruitment Manager for the College of Education. Since then, she has won a variety of employee awards for her work.
“I’d rather be uncomfortable than allow myself to be silent,” Harris said. “It motivated me, as well as thinking about the people who came before me. Someone had to chart the path, and I want to continue to chart the path and make the world, and UNC, Carolina, a better place for those who will come after me.”
Besides her work in the School of Education, Harris has also been involved in several activist movements on campus. As vice president of the Carolina Black Caucus, Harris has participated in protests demanding the removal of Silent Sam as well as in demonstrations in support of journalist Nicole Hannah Jones.
“I was actually at the forefront of a lot of that through my leadership position at CBC, and it was stressful,” Harris said. “It was an honor to be a part of something greater than myself, who I am and what we were doing. But there was also a sense of sadness that we had to do it.”
CBC Secretary Charlisa Rice praised Harris’s work, and noted her dedication despite the fatigue that often accompanies the call.
“Since our first encounter with CBC, I knew she was going to be very influential in my life,” said Rice. “I admire her courage, hard work, thinking, ambition, and leadership, which also helped me get through tough times. Seeing her standing up and not holding back from challenges encourages me and many others. She is not only one of my role models, but also a friend — someone I can relate to, regardless for what I need.”
Beginning January 24, Harris will take this skill and passion to the university’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion as Senior Director of Education, Operations and Initiatives.
Harris said she is excited about entering the role, but maintains realistic expectations about what she can do.
“D&I practitioners often adhere to these miraculous standards,” Harris said. “I want my peers to know, and I want the student community to know, that I am not infallible. Doing this work for me means that I am constantly learning, and I will do the harm to the campus community if I am not comfortable reading, researching, and developing myself in the field.”
Leah Cox, deputy dean for equality and inclusion and head of diversity in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, said Harris’s position will be challenging, but she is confident that Harris will live up to the high expectations.
“I chose her to serve in this capacity as Senior Director because I was able to see her brief stint at UNC that she has done a lot of work to create an inclusive and equitable society,” Cox said in an email statement. “…This is a difficult situation, and she has a lot of responsibility, but I am sure she will work by my side to build a diverse, inclusive and equitable society with a focus on social justice.”
Despite her cautious optimism, Harris said she is ready to take on her new responsibilities.
“I look forward to helping shape the next step,” Harris said. “And to lend my skills and knowledge to D&I strategy for this important work of maintaining a climate of transparency, inclusive excellence, equity and diversity in all aspects of our campus. I hope to inspire and restore a sense of hope through ethical leadership, because I am an ethical leader as much as I am a problematic.”
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