Monadnock Profiles: FPU Chief Diversity Officer pursuing positive change

  • Pierre Morton has been named the first-ever Chief Diversity Officer at Franklin Pierce University. Courtesy photo

  • Pierre Morton has been named the first-ever Chief Diversity Officer at Franklin Pierce University. Courtesy photo—

  • Pierre Morton has been named the first-ever Chief Diversity Officer at Franklin Pierce University. Courtesy photo—

  • Pierre Morton has been named the first-ever Chief Diversity Officer at Franklin Pierce University. Courtesy photo—

  • Pierre Morton has been named the first-ever Chief Diversity Officer at Franklin Pierce University. Courtesy photo—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 4/7/2021 4:36:05 PM

Pierre Morton has a goal for his first 90 days as Chief Diversity Officer at Franklin Pierce University, and it’s actually very simple. He wants to listen, hear what others have to say, and create another avenue for change.

To do that, he has three questions to start: What is your definition of equity? What is your understanding of inclusion? What is your understanding of diversity? And he’ll listen to anyone’s answers – students, faculty, community members.

“Because this is not a one-person job; it’s a one-world job,” Morton said.

As a gay Black man, Morton understands firsthand how an individual can be affected by the color of their skin or who they chose to love.

The position, proposed and established through the Pierce@60 strategic planning sessions will be responsible for establishing the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. It shows a commitment to building a more inclusive community and diverse learning environment, and Morton wants to be on the forefront of that change.

It just so happens the announcement comes on the heels of months of vigils and protests sparked by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin killing of George Floyd, but it had been in the works well before the uprising began last summer. For Morton, Floyd’s death is just another in a long line of Black men he’s seen unjustly killed – and it left him angry. While the pursuit for change that has happened since Floyd’s death gives Morton hope, there’s still a lingering question.

“Why did it take so long to happen?” he wondered. Was it the nine-plus minute video depicting a man’s final moments? Or did people finally see the pattern that is all too familiar for Morton?

He often wonders when real progress will be seen. He knows the only way it will happen is through actionable ways, and he hopes it doesn’t just fall away when the cameras stop rolling. Morton said it starts with a conversation – and then another and another. He wants to host workshops and talks centered around race, teaching people to be an ally and not a bystander.

Morton was involved with the search process to find the right person to fill this groundbreaking role. But as he sat in on interview after interview, the same sinking feeling kept returning. He just wasn’t seeing the right fit.

“We are a very unique university,” Morton said, citing FPU’s rural setting and lack of ethnic diversity. And having worked with so many students during his year-plus at FPU, Morton wanted to find the right person for everyone on campus.

“Our students are the most grateful students I’ve ever interacted with,” he said.

And it turns out the right person was on the FPU campus all along. Since this is a new position, Morton has a clean slate to create an environment at FPU that celebrates every single person.

“I want to build this from the ground up,” Morton said. “And it’s not about me, it’s about the people – the students, the faculty, the community.”

But before he even starts his new role on April 12, Morton will be aided by the creation of the Justice in Action Athletic Alliance, a group of student athletes, coaches and members of the athletic department, whose mission is “to serve as a platform in which effective expression, progressive education and thoughtful action are sponsored and celebrated.”

Morton lives in Keene with his husband Michael Giuliano and son Christopher Garcia. He and Michael have been together for 16 years, meeting on the now-defunct Yahoo dating site. Giuliano was the second man Morton chatted with, but it almost didn’t happen after a small typo on Giuliano’s part made the profile read “homeless romantic” rather than “hopeless romantic.” But they did eventually talk on the phone – for two-and-a-half hours – and they’ve been together ever since.

Morton said they have a good balance, with he being more of a dreamer and Giuliano, the pragmatic one.

Morton was born to a single mother, Deborah, who was pursuing an education at different colleges around the country, and at the time was an only child.

He remembers sitting in the back of the classroom with his Lincoln Logs, while his mother learned.

“She couldn’t afford a babysitter, so I did everything with my mom,” Morton said. “Little did she know the impact it would have on me.”

That introduction to education at a young age made a big difference. So did his father.

“My dad really had a big impression on my zeal for learning, for curiosity,” Morton said.

He went to inner city schools in Chicago and private Christian schools, where he was the only person of color. For high school, he attended South Mountain High School in Phoenix, where he studied theater and music. It may have taken some time to grow up and realize it, but “I knew my purpose since I was a little boy,” he said.

Part of that growing up included not graduating high school, with a spot at The Juilliard School awaiting, to pursue a career as a session singer and at the Palladium, a nightclub in Manhattan.

“The singing came easy to me and I was making money,” Morton said. “Did I have youthful dreams of becoming a famous singer, yeah. But it’s a rough business.”

At the time though, it was what he wanted to do, and even got the opportunity to sing for Deee-Lite.

“I could always go to college,” he said. “I may never, ever get the chance to sing for Deee-Lite.”

But the entertainment world in New York City had its drawbacks, and Morton was soon confronted with drug and alcohol issues.

“I went through a very dark stage,” he said. “I was able to overcome it, but it took me a few years to do that.” In large part because of his grandmother on his dad’s side, Bessie Ealim. There was a conversation Morton had with her that proved to be a turning point.

“The tone in her voice shook me to the core,” he said. “At that point I made up my mind.”

And it was that struggle that has helped shape him.

“What makes me is what I’ve gone through and what I’ve overcome,” Morton said.

It wasn’t until the age of 35 that Morton finally received his GED and he’s been learning ever since. It started with a bachelor’s degree from Albertus Magnus College in human resource management, followed by a master’s in organizational development at the University of New Haven. He’s currently in a doctoral program in education at Wilmington University.

“I knew I had a lot more to offer,” he said. “I wish I had gone to Juilliard right out of high school, but I’m blessed, fortunate, lucky to be given another chance. And I just want other people to have that chance.”

He spent 11 years at Yale University in a variety of roles, the last of which was as assistant director of human resources and administration. Being at the Ivy League school taught him many things, one of them how to understand privilege. And it left him wanting more.

“I wanted to go to a place where I could truly help people,” Morton said. It led him to the University of Bridgeport and then the University of New Haven, where he was the Assistant Director of Employer Relations and oversaw employer relations for the school’s Career Development Center.

Then in July of 2019, Morton began his Franklin Pierce University tenure as the Executive Director of Career Development.

“The real work in career development is in the inner workings,” Morton said, helping students to develop a plethora of skills and creating a culture in which they can thrive.

Nothing inspires Morton more than seeing someone reach their goals.

“That is what excites me. When people are moved from one place to another,” he said. “To reach goals, to become what you want.”

Morton moved around quite a bit as a kid. He lived in Chicago and Evanston, Illinois, Spokane, Washington, Ohio, Texas and two different places in Arizona. Some may have found the constant change in life difficult, but not Morton.

“I didn’t find it hard at all. I loved every minute of it,” he said.

One of those spots in Arizona, Phoenix, was where his mom’s parents, Peter and Lynne Morton, lived in a large home with a vegetable garden, chickens, rabbits, pigs, cows, goats and a horse. And every summer Morton would head to the family homestead and meet up with his nine cousins.

The property was filled with trees, including ones with fruit like pomegranate, grapefruit and peaches.

“It was like an oasis,” Morton said. One day he was climbing his grandfather’s prized peach tree and fell from the top. His grandfather rushed over and made sure he was okay.

“Then he says to me ‘Boy, what were you doing to my peach tree?” Morton remembered. “That’s how much he loved that peach tree.”

As a child, he acted in back-to-school commercials for Smitty’s, a local grocery store chain in Arizona that also sold clothes and other items. Morton equated it to an old-school Target.

These days he doesn’t sing professionally, but he does at home and plays guitar. Morton enjoys getting out into nature and will hike any mountain he can find. His husband and son are his world, he said.

Morton remembers the way his grandmother Bessie treated people at her Arizona restaurant. There were people of all backgrounds that came there to eat, including those migrating to California. But to his grandmother they all deserved the same level of respect.

That’s what Morton will strive for in his role as Chief Diversity Officer – a world where everyone, regardless of their differences, feel welcomed and included.

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