CSS Welcomes Dr. Jessica Cruz

Ann Arbor – The Center for Social Solutions (CSS) is pleased to announce the recent hire of Dr. Jessica Cruz as the managing director for our Just Futures initiative, “Crafting Democratic Futures”. The Mellon Foundation-funded program spans three years and incorporates academics and community members from nine additional sites, all seeking to develop reparations solutions. Dr. Cruz, in coordination with CSS founder and director Earl Lewis, will oversee the strategic plan and daily operations of each site.  

Dr. Cruz has a demonstrated commitment to place-based, community-driven, and culturally relevant approaches to higher education. Most recently, she served as the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Northern Michigan University where she was one of two in the nation selected for the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education (NADOHE) Chief Diversity Officer Fellowship and founded Aim North, a placed-based program designed to increased access and retention rates among historically underrepresented students in higher education. Guided by critical race theory, she also transformed the university’s campus cultural center to focus on two priorities: to build and maintain an equitable infrastructure to support Black, Indigenous, Students of Color (BIPOC), LGBTQ+ students, and more; and, to engage in the transdisciplinary study of equity and social justice. She was appointed by Michigan Governor Whitmer to serve on the Hispanic Latino Commission of Michigan, during which time she has advocated for community health information, such as information about COVID-19, to be disseminated in Mam, an Indigenous language spoken by a significant percentage of the Guatemalan community in the greater Grand Rapids area, the second largest Latinx group in Grand Rapids, MI. 

On the Center’s newest hire, Earl Lewis states, “We are thrilled to have Dr. Jessica Cruz join our Just Futures initiative as the Managing Director. Jessica, who is relinquishing her role as the Chief Diversity Officer at Northern Michigan University to join us, is a well-recognized professional with a broad reach across the state of Michigan and within higher education.” Lewis continued, “Moreover, in addition to a proven track record, she is a pleasure to work with and one who has a record of getting the job done.” 

Prior to her time at Northern Michigan University, Dr. Cruz served as the executive director and co-founder of the Ferris State University Center for Latin@ Studies. In this role, she co-founded Promesa, a series of programs designed to increase access, retention, and graduation rates for Latinx and other historically underrepresented college students via culturally relevant university-community partnerships throughout West Michigan.  “As someone who is passionate about place-based, community-driven partnerships in higher education, I’m excited to join Dr. Earl Lewis and the entire team at the Center for Solutions to help lead the Just Futures initiatives,” commented Dr. Cruz. “I have dedicated my career to advocating for systemic equity, and I am looking forward to working with partners across the country to offer suggestions for sustainable community-based reparations solutions grounded in local histories.”

Dr. Cruz received her BA in French and her BS in Public and Non-Profit Administration with an emphasis on Community Development from Grand Valley State University. She holds an MA, M.Ed., and Ed.D. in International Educational Development, with a specialization in Higher and Post-secondary Education, from Teachers College, Columbia University.  

About “Crafting Democratic Futures” 

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has announced the award of a $5M grant to the Center for Social Solutions (CSS) and University of Michigan partners, including the Center for Poverty Solutions and University Musical Society (UMS), as part of the Foundation’s Just Futures initiative. The project, which will span three years, creates and leverages a national network of college and university-based humanities scholars working in partnerships with community-based organizations to develop research-informed reparation plans for each location. The network will consist of nine geographically dispersed and organizationally different colleges and universities and involve community fellows as well as local organizations in a collaborative public history reckoning designed to offer tangible suggestions for community-based racial reparations solutions. “Crafting Democratic Futures: Situating Colleges and Universities in Community-based Reparations Solutions,” emerges from the Center’s focus on slavery and its aftermath, and is informed by three generations of humanistic scholarship and what that scholarship suggests for all seeking just futures. 

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