Campus & Community

CME’s Debbie Mixon Mitchell to receive Outstanding Service Award at Convocation

Debbie Mixon-Mitchell will receive the Outstanding Service Award at the Convocation ceremony on Oct. 2

Debbie Mixon-Mitchell will receive the Outstanding Service Award at the Convocation ceremony on Oct. 2

A passionate advocate of equity and inclusion, Debbie Mixon Mitchell is a constant example of what it means to be caring, responsive, courteous and accountable to others.

Mitchell currently serves as director of diversity recruiting in the Center for Multicultural Excellence, where her work encouraging transparent and inclusive hiring practices requires a broad knowledge of best practices and a deep understanding of people. Mitchell’s passionate commitment to collaborative engagement is evident in her work revitalizing and supporting advocacy groups on campus. Also an educator and scholar, Mitchell teaches courses at the Graduate School of Social Work and at Colorado Women’s College. She co-authored “Beyond the Question of Color: Diversity Issues in Child Welfare Supervision” (2009) and was a contributing author to “Colorado’s Child Welfare Practice Handbook” (1998).

We sat down with Mitchell, who will receive the Outstanding Service Award at the Convocation ceremony on Oct. 2, to talk about her award and what it means to her and to the University.


Q: Tell me about your passion for equity and inclusion. What drew you toward advocacy?

A: It goes back to when I was 5 years old. I remember being in the living room with my parents while they were watching the news. I looked up at the TV and saw these images of black people being hosed with gushes of water by white men in uniforms. I distinctly remember asking my mother, “What did those people do?” She turned to me and said, “Nothing, babe,” so I responded, “Well, why are they doing that to them?” My mom simply said, “Some white people don’t like black people; there’s no good reason.” In my little 5-year-old mind, I couldn’t understand that. Those images have stayed with me, and in high school led me to think about justice and fairness in my education, and I realized there’s a need for people to advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves.

Social work had a special calling to me, and after school I went to work for a public welfare agency. I very quickly realized if I had not been blessed with recourses — two parents who loved and cared for me — that I could have been at the other end of the interview. At that point I realized it wasn’t enough to provide service; I had a responsibility to become an advocate to help things be more equitable.

I came to the University of Denver as a trainer/educator to provide education to those doing social work, and I went on to see how I can impact the educational system in a way that is more fair and equitable to all. I strive to be the difference that will make the difference.


Q: What challenges do you face here at DU?

A: There is a big challenge in disrupting business as usual. People think of disruption as negative, but I view it as something that can also be positive. It’s an opportunity to fix something that isn’t working for everyone. I work to support that which will help us as an institution continue to be both relevant and competitive; if we understand the importance of creating an environment for diversity, it will pull people toward us.

I see in today’s students that they want to be stretched, challenged and exposed to things they haven’t been exposed to before in their lives; they’re seeking a broader understanding of the world. As a university, we should be preparing students to interact effectively in a diverse and global world.

We have a real chance to advance and expand our commitment to creating a quality educational environment in a way that leaves us more competitive and relevant compared to our competitors, and I believe that’s consistent with the values and mission of the University.

I find the thing I’m most challenged by here at DU is that diversity and inclusive excellence work involves a process that takes time. I admit that I can get impatient with the time needed to make change and, more importantly, with myself for not being a “super woman” who can ensure needed changes.


Q: What are your aspirations for the future of this University?

A: The biggest aspiration I have for myself and for DU is that, in spite of the time involved, we remain focused and relentless in pursuing the benefits of a diverse and inclusive campus. I believe that a determined and sustained effort by all of us to provide students with the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to make valuable contributions within an increasingly diverse society will ultimately allow us to advance our reputation for providing students with an excellent education. I believe we can achieve our aspiration of being a diverse and inclusive campus and wouldn’t dedicate myself to this important work if I didn’t think we could do so.

I see Chancellor Chopp’s energy and insight — and her previous success as a leader — as making us ripe for advancing our work. So my aspiration is that we do just that: to be able to see and demonstrate more clearly our commitment to inclusive excellence. Rather than just a note on our website, there will be evidence of inclusive excellence around our campus. We will be able to see the processes implemented in performing our work, planning and decision making. We will be able to see indeed that we really are committed.


Q: How does it feel to be recognized for your contributions?

A: I was stunned! I keep using that word; I don’t know a more powerful word to convey the intensity of shock. It’s also very humbling; I was filled with emotion when I found out about the nomination. I never would have thought my work is noteworthy. It’s inspiring in many ways because there are so many others who are deserving of recognition; now I have to work even harder!

My mother and grandmother are both fighters, so when I won I immediately thought of both of them. I thought, “This is for my mom and my granny.”

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