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Pluff Joins Hamilton as Director of Diversity Recruitment

While conducting her college search, Joanne Pluff’s parents gave her one bit of advice: Study whatever you want, but whatever that is, do it well.

As Hamilton’s new director of diversity recruitment, she plans to pass that same guidance along to the prospective students she counsels — especially students of color and those from historically marginalized backgrounds. “Think of the opportunities at a small college like Hamilton,” she said. “Look at resources like the Career Center and faculty advising. Take advantage of the access to alums and one-on-one counseling. Here you can choose to study what you love and be supported.”

Originally from Massachusetts, Pluff came to Central New York to attend Utica College, where she played soccer and participated in the Black Student Union and other cultural organizations. After graduation, she worked for a few years at a public relations firm in Syracuse before taking a community educator position at the YWCA of the Mohawk Valley. There she did everything from event planning and fundraising to facilitating group discussions on bullying, drugs, self-esteem, character building, LGBTQ+ issues, and diversity. 

Pluff returned to her alma mater seven years ago to work in college admissions. In addition to leading campus and virtual events for prospective students and families, and managing the recruitment territories for admission officers, she oversaw the recruitment process for students to the Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP).

“What I found is that, as an institution, we weren’t having enough meaningful conversations around DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) issues,” she said. “We had a large population of minority students, but we weren’t preparing them for important conversations. We were walking the walk without talking the talk.”

Pluff expanded her role at Utica College to become an inter-group dialogue facilitator, where she fostered discussions among faculty, staff, and students focused on a variety of topics. Taking the time to connect people, especially during these times of heightened social unrest, is a first step toward developing understanding and mutual respect.

“Every student of color knows that, yes, it can be challenging to show up in an all-white space, but the benefits outweigh the risks,” she said. What she wants students to know is “you are qualified to be in this space, and Hamilton is a place that’s inviting and supportive. This is a place that’s committed to working toward being more inclusive.” 

In 2009, Hamilton became one of a handful of colleges and universities to adopt a need-blind policy in admission, which means that applicants are evaluated without considering their family’s ability to pay. Hamilton also meets the full demonstrated financial need of all U.S. students it accepts. In the decade since becoming need-blind, Hamilton’s student body went from 22.4% U.S. students of color and international students to 32.0% today. In addition, the College has seen record application rates, increased selectivity, richer diversity, improved retention, and its highest graduation rates.

“Hamilton is the right next step in my career path,” Pluff said. “Here, I’ll have the opportunity to take on more DEI work. I’m excited to meet and recruit this population of students and welcome them to Hamilton.”

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