Fairness, listening, and learning: A conversation with Broad’s chief equity officer

Just a few weeks into his new position, Kedrick Perry spoke about his approach to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, what his goals are, and what motivates him in his work.

Portrait of Kedrick Perry
Credit: Jared Charney
Kedrick Perry joined the Broad Institute in September as chief equity officer.

Kedrick Perry got his start in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) work early in his career. As a doctoral student at the University of Virginia, he also worked as assistant director of graduate diversity programs where he designed and implemented various diversity initiatives. That kicked off a nearly 20-year career in DEIB at the University of Virginia, Suffolk University, University of California, Berkeley, and most recently at Loyola University New Orleans as vice president for equity and inclusion. He arrived at the Broad in September as chief equity officer and head of the Office of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Allyship (IDEA).

This early passion for DEIB work is rooted in Perry’s experiences growing up on a farm in rural North Carolina as the first person in his family to go to college and also to earn a master’s and doctorate degree. Picked on as a child “because I was different,” Perry says he always wanted to participate in clubs and programs in higher education that helped people “who came from places where they felt their voices could not be heard.”

“Twenty years later, I'm still doing this work,” said Perry. “It's a calling for me.”

Perry recently spoke at an event at Broad about how he thinks about DEIB, what he hopes to achieve at Broad, and what keeps him motivated, as well as a bit about his life outside of work (it includes reading, murder mystery and science fiction shows, and disco). The following text has been edited for length.

A short video clip of Perry speaking at a recent Broad event about equity and his role at the institute.

What brought you from a small town in North Carolina to here?
Two things. One was reading. Reading was my way to learn about the world. On Friday nights during high school, people would go to see the movies or go out with their friends. I went to Barnes and Noble. That was exciting to me. Reading allowed me to know that there was more outside of Oak City, North Carolina. 

Second thing was: I didn't have many friends growing up, so I watched a lot of TV. And I watched a show called Dallas, which was about a rich oil family. And I said: ‘This is so amazing. These people are so rich, they can do anything they want.’ That seemed kind of unfair, that rich people can do anything they want. I loved the show, but it also made me think: ‘What about the rest of us?’ I want everybody else to have a fair shot at this too. 

So I think that's how I evolved. I knew that I wanted to help other people get fair shots and by reading, I learned that the world could be my oyster.

What are your goals here at Broad? 
To listen and to learn. Many people come into a new place and say they're going to change this and that, without actually knowing the place. For me, I’m taking it back a few steps. I have to meet people, learn their identities, and learn how those identities interact with Broad and how Broad approaches those identities. I need to learn about the people here. I need to listen to their concerns and try to understand also how I fit into Broad, how I can work most effectively here.

I think part of my job here, and it’s one of my priorities, is to try to be more targeted in our outreach. If we do a DEIB program, yes, often, it’s the same people who come all the time, but for me, I want some of those PIs who never come. I want some of those administrators who never come.

So I’m going to meet people and let them know who I am, what I believe in, my vision, and to try to get them involved. I’m not necessarily saying my vision's the correct one, but I want people to understand how I go about doing things and let them know that DEIB is not only about increasing the number of Black and Brown people in the pipeline. It's about providing safer spaces for all people. It's about psychological safety. 

Can you talk more about that? What does DEIB mean to you? 
I think there’s a stereotype of DEIB work, that we're only about increasing representation. It’s about more than that. Equity is about fairness. Equity is not equality. Equality is sameness. You can't have equality until you have equity. So I'm going to try to make sure what we do here is fair, not just for underrepresented groups or marginalized groups, but for all Broadies, because I'm not just the chief equity officer for Black Broadies. I'm the chief equity officer for all Broadies. 

What do you hope Broad will look like in a year or two? 
In the short term, there will be more psychological safety here. Some Broadies might not feel safe at home, but when you come here you should be safe, physically safe and psychologically safe. That's what we're working towards. 

Over the long term, I want Broad to be a place of innovation in DEIB, where people say, ‘Oh, do you know what they're doing at Broad? They're ahead of the game. We haven't done that before.’ 

Diversity has gotten a very bad rap for being stale, that it’s all about seeking out problems. No, it's about seeking out opportunities, and it's about making change. And I want us to be at the forefront of that change in STEM.

What are some things you accomplished at Loyola?
Loyola has a lot of activist students who are really concerned and caring. When I got there, I found that our students wanted more space to build community, and so one of my first goals there was to open a multicultural center. Through a lot of advocacy and using my cache of being a new person and the grace that was given to me, I was able to get a central space and open Loyola’s first ever multicultural center. 

Another thing that I was very proud of is that I started the first international program for a DEI office within the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (which Loyola belongs to). I wanted to provide students with the opportunity to study in another country, because the learning is in the immersion, particularly for students who had never traveled before. We went to Mexico City for two weeks to learn about activism, social justice, and the region’s history. It was phenomenal, and the best part, it was completely free for all students. I had to do a lot of fundraising for it. It was an amazing opportunity. 

I’m also very, very proud that I helped increase the number of underrepresented faculty members of color. That was not easy, but we had to be very intentional. We had to come up with a recruiting strategy. We had to go to places we had not gone to before to try to get these faculty members to come to Loyola.

Why do you do this work?
For me, this work is very personal. We choose this work because we care about people. We care about making spaces better. We care about making change.

Another reason I do the work I do, is to make the path easier for people who come after me. There's a philosophy in western Africa called sankofa. I think it's in the Twi language and it really means "to go back and get." And it has evolved into going back and bringing people up to where you are. That's how I view my role here: it's about going back and bringing people up. Because if you're in this room, you are very fortunate. You have a privilege. And when we are awarded, earned, blessed with a privilege, it's not for us to keep this, it's for us to use this to help other people. That's what we should be doing, is going back and bringing other people up with us. That's how we keep the world moving.

A short video clip of Perry speaking about what drives him in his work.