Keeping a Watch on Diversity

Benjamin D. Reese, Jr. promotes diversity and inclusion at Duke

Benjamin D. Reese, Jr. Duke's vice president for Institutional Equity, with some of the more than 100 wristwatches he has collected. Photo by Marsha A. Green.

Name: Benjamin D. Reese Jr.

Position: Vice President for Institutional Equity

Years at Duke: 16

What I do at Duke: I provide leadership to ensure that Duke is a fair and equitable place for people who come here to work or learn. That can include designing and implementing diversity and inclusion strategies for various departments or units, reviewing harassment complaints, providing multicultural education online, writing Duke's annual affirmative action plan, serving on search committees for senior administrators, and going to countless meetings.

A memorable day at Duke: When I was fairly new at Duke, a gentleman poked his head into my office and engaged me in conversation. At the end, he said I should call him and have lunch. I said, "Tell me your name again?" and he said "John Hope Franklin." I was so stunned I was frozen. I didn't have the nerve to call him, but a few weeks later, he took me out to lunch and we became fast friends.

To start a conversation with me, ask me about: Mentoring. I am usually actively mentoring about a dozen people.

When I'm not at work I like to: Spend evenings in clubs listening to jazz. I don't play and I don't sing, but my dad was a jazz aficionado. He played records from jazz greats as far back as I can recall. It feels like jazz is in my DNA.

If I had $5 million I would: Visit all the neat jazz festivals and film festivals on the planet, and then share some cash with friends and acquaintances thinking about higher education.

My first ever job: I was a stock boy in a shirt manufacturing company in the garment district of Manhattan for two years. In all that time, the only person who knew my name was the bookkeeper. To everyone else I was just "boy."

The best advice I've received: My father told me that you don't sacrifice your ethical principles for anyone. He used to say all you really can be sure of having is what is in your heart and head.

What I love about Duke: The fact that it is so multifaceted that I can speak with someone who is a prominent figure in a neighborhood church, turn around and talk to someone who is a world-renowned surgeon and turn around again and talk to a student who is bubbling with excitement about a conversation with a professor. I don't know where else you find that mixture of people, activities and demographics.

My dream job: This is pretty close to it. The only thing that would make it better is the opportunity for jazz at lunch every day.

Something most people don't know about me: I collect clocks and watches. They fascinate me. It probably started because of the role time played in my life as a clinical psychologist engaged in psychotherapy. I now have over 100 wristwatches. I used to wear a different watch every day. My staff gave me a Duke watch when I became a Duke vice president. Now that's the only one I wear.