Dwight Burke, doing a thankless job

Tatiana Parafiniuk-Talesnick

Dwight Burke started his 32-year-old career at Colorado State University as an undergraduate student in 1984. He studied natural resources management and minored in hydrology, and had no idea he would never leave the campus and go on to be the Executive Director of Support & Safety Assessment and Title IX Programs.

Burke’s job on campus is divided into four primary areas: threat assessment; early intervention support services; student-on-student investigations, a security program for screening students and faculty to allow them to gain access to high-security areas on campus; and Title IX programs.

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“A majority of people do not see what we do,” said Joshua Alvarez, assistant director of support & safety assessment.

Luke Langholz, a program aide in the Office of Support & Safety Assessment, shared a similar sentiment regarding Burke and his office’s work.

“Much of what he does is a thankless job,” said Langholz.

But Burke and his colleagues are unconcerned with the behind-the-scenes nature of the job.

“There’s a lot of invisible work that’s done there to intentionally create an inclusive campus,” said Burke. “So ideally people don’t know that, they just know that they were invited here and it felt right.”

What is the invisible office of Support & Safety Assessment?

This Office of Support & Safety Assessment was formed in 2010. It was formed to give additional structure and attention to the work what was being done as many people’s part-time work. Early intervention, threat assessment, preventative measures and investigation was housed under one office.

“And then 2011 was a landmark shift in how sexual assault on campus would be dealt with because of Title IX,” said Burke.

In 2011 a letter issues by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights stated that, “The sexual harassment of students, including sexual violence, interferes with students’ right to receive an education free from discrimination and, in the case of sexual violence, is a crime.”

This year all of Title IX was shifted to Burke’s office, and he moved from the Title IX deputy, to the coordinator. There is a deputy in athletics and in the office of equal opportunity.

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“The fact that you didn’t feel excluded when you read something means we’re creating an inviting community,” said Burke.

How did Dwight Burke get here?

The job now is different than what he initially went to school for, Burke said, but not entirely unrelated. For him, a good job is about doing the right thing.

“It’s about finding your strengths and what you like to do,” said Burke. “For me it comes down to ‘How am I supporting the greater good?’”

This sentiment reflects in the service he does.

“It’s a tremendous honor to serve with Dwight. It is evident in the work that he does that he cares about justice,” said Langholz.

Langholz specified that justice meant a holistic perspective.

“Justice gets thrown around a lot,” said Lanholz. “It’s so interesting to work with someone who works with equity, inclusion, and fairness to bring a unique perspective.”

Langholz suspects Burke’s attention to justice has something to do with his background in law. Before serving as the Executive Director of Support & Safety Assessment and Title IX Programs, Burke was a CSU police officer from 1987 to 1995 and worked in the investigations division from 1995 to 2010.

Burke said that it was that job before his police work that kick-started his love of CSU and Fort Collins. During his sophomore year of college Burke started working for housing and dinning centers on CSU campus, in food services and as a resident assistant.

“I started loving the work, loving the interactions, loving this environment,” said Burke.

These jobs may seem unrelated, but they share a common theme: justice and care. These are Burke’s core values.

While earning his undergraduate Burke began working with the CSU police. He said he enjoyed the work, but then found joy in looking at the bigger picture.

“I enjoyed the initial getting-there-to-solve-a-problem interactions, then in 1996 I had the opportunity to go out to the Larimer country drug task force. I spend 11 years there doing a different style behind-the-scenes-drug investigations,” said Burke.

He found joy in solving problems, which is why he began working as an on-campus investigator. It inspired him to look at a broader picture, towards the end of those 11 years of service on the drug task force he became heavily involved on campus drug and alcohol intervention and mental intervention programs.

“That is were I settled and found my most enjoyment,” said Burke. “Trying to steer people before consequences hit, instead of dealing with issues at the tale-end.”

When the office of of Support & Safety Assessment was formed, it made sense for Burke to lead it.

Lanholz spoke to Burke’s leadership skills on the team.

“He’s primarily interested in equipping us to do the work ourselves, instead of dictating from above,” said Lanholz.

Alvarez praised Burke’s flexibility.

“He understands the people that are working for him, he allows a lot of flexibility,” said Alvarez. “If something’s on your mind, he’s the guy we go to.”

The work the office deals with is heavy: behavior issues, conflict, alcoholism, sexism, etc., so it is imperative that the employees take time for self-care, and Burke makes sure those he leads are healthy.

Burke said his colleagues inspire him to do the work he does.

“I can’t imagine having a better, more driven set of colleagues that truly care about students, the institution, and want to to the right thing,” said Burke. “It’s fun, it’s great to sit around in a meeting and listen to big ideas. And people are just pumped up about working here. It’s contagious, its hard not to be inspired when you’re working here.”

Burke is also inspired by the students on campus. In his 32 years on campus, he’s seen a lot of change, although he argues student culture has remained consistently vibrant. He commends this progressive generation and the changes they are bound to make.

“What I see coming through the door today in students is far ahead even where we had hoped to get our work to, so now the students are leading us in this field. This generation is saying we’re not going to put up with this stuff anymore, it exciting stuff to see the passion in students around human rights and justice in these issues,” said Burke. “What I would say to students is keep it up, it’s pushing society in ways that it hasn’t been able to move in a long time”

Collegian reporter Tatiana Parafiniuk-Talesnick can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @TatianaSophiaPT@gmail.com.