Dr. Lea Lani Kinikini, Salt Lake Community College’s first chief diversity officer, is leaving the college this December to be director of the Institute for Research and Engaged Scholarship at the University of Hawaii at West Oahu.
Kinikini joined SLCC in August 2019. She has since co-launched or co-founded the Utah Reintegration Project as well as the Office for Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion for Social Transformation, or JEDI4ST; she also directed the Juvenile Justice Nest Pilot program.
Kinikini received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Utah and came to SLCC after working overseas, where she completed her doctorate from the University of Auckland, New Zealand. She received her master’s degree from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
Her role as chief diversity officer was to increase inclusivity throughout the college and to encourage new ways of thinking.
“Its purpose is to collaborate with the president and the cabinet to introduce new ways of thinking, helping to identify what our strengths and weaknesses are, and where we need to put our resources and where we need to change in order to rebuild the system to be more inclusive and equitable,” Kinikini said.
Kinikini reflected on her time working at SLCC.
“My experience over the past two and a half years at SLCC has been one of connection to many students, divisions and people across the campus, to hear their stories and empathize through deep listening,” she said. “My favorite part has been building collaborations and bringing in the leadership of Cabinet to take a more action-oriented approach to start to identify problematic processes, procedures and practices and solve them through the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Council for Transformation.”
In an email announcing Kinikini’s impending departure, SLCC President Deneece Huftalin wrote, “we know that her scholarship and academic pursuits ground her work on justice, inclusion and equity, so this new role offers her a perfect alignment with her passions and knowledge base. I am thrilled for her, but sorry to lose her perspective and innovations in the JEDI work at SLCC.”
Kinikini said she’s excited for the new position, noting it is “[an] opportunity to work in an institution whose vision is to build a Native Hawaiian place of learning and sense of belonging for its students and faculty, which are very diverse.”
She’s also excited be able to “collaborate on undergraduate research with faculty researchers and most importantly, through equity and justice projects, continue to build bridges from the University to the communities it serves, particularly on the west side of Oahu.”