Lees-McRae hires Charles E. Gibson, III as inaugural chief diversity officer

In keeping with its commitment to expand diversity and inclusion efforts throughout campus, Lees-McRae has named Charles E. Gibson, III as its first ever chief diversity officer.

Gibson, a native of Atlanta, Georgia, who attended Appalachian State University for graduate school, unites a love for the High Country with a strong background in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work at institutions of higher education.

“In 2020, the college made its own commitment that we must do more to ensure that our intention for diversity is more prominent in everything we do,” said President Lee King. “That commitment has led us to name our first ever chief diversity officer. In a short time, Charles has already made a positive impact on relationships and has begun to develop an institutional framework for excellence and diversity.”

As chief diversity officer, Gibson heads an advisory committee dedicated to DEI efforts on campus and reports directly to the college president.

Gibson’s interest in the DEI field grew from his interactions with mentor Barbee Oakes, PhD, the first chief diversity officer at Wake Forest University, where Gibson earned a bachelor’s degree in Music with an English minor. Oakes asked Gibson, who had initially intended to go to law school, what he wanted to do with his life. Gibson said that he had enjoyed getting to work with the dean of students as a student leader in the university’s judicial affairs office, and Oakes encouraged him to consider her field.

“That was the lightbulb,” Gibson said. “Shortly after that she ended up advocating for me in a way that really made an indelible impression. That’s when I decided that I wanted to serve the students the way that she served me.”

After leaving Wake Forest, Gibson pursued a Master of Arts in Higher Education and an Education Specialist degree at Appalachian State. His work took him to Penn State University, where he spent five years in the Office of Graduate Educational Equity Programs. While at Penn State, Gibson completed his Master of Education degree. He then spent three years as a corporate consultant for human resource issues related to diversity before deciding to return to higher education—and his roots.

“It’s a bit of a homecoming because my family is from the mountains,” Gibson said. “We actually have ties all the way back to like the late 18th century.”

On his father’s side, Gibson had family connections to the mountains of western North Carolina, specifically Lenoir. On his mother’s side, he is the descendant of Mexican immigrants. He was born in Los Angeles and raised in Atlanta, and his experience growing up in a multicultural family gave him a strong background for his professional work.

As the first chief diversity officer for Lees-McRae, Gibson will take the lead on developing a strategic plan centered around diversity, equity, and inclusion and bringing attention to the work Lees-McRae is already doing in that area.

“The campus itself is very diverse,” he said. “There are a lot of first-generation students. The racial/ethnic representation is more diverse than many other small colleges in the country. But that’s not something that’s readily apparent to people.”

Gibson says that he intends to help the college better publicize its good work and successes. “The thing about a small college is a lot of people wear many hats and they do their work very well, and they don’t have time to rest on their laurels and pat themselves on the back,” he said, “so my job is to make sure that that is celebrated.”

By Emily WebbJanuary 26, 2022
Campus Life