After a national search and competitive hiring process, Buncombe County is pleased to announce Rachel Edens will fill the newly created position of Chief Equity & Human Rights Officer. This role is an important new addition to the County’s leadership team, reporting directly to Assistant County Manager DK Wesley.
The 2025 Strategic Plan places equity as both a value and foundational focus area. The newly-funded position of Chief Equity & Human Rights Officer was approved by the Board of Commissioners in the adopted Fiscal Year 2022 budget. This action further illustrates the policy commitment to advance equity in Buncombe County. “Over the last year, our county has made significant strides in the area of equity and inclusion. Nevertheless, there is so much more work to be done. Creating this office and filling this role is a key moment in our path forward,” notes Wesley. “As we systematically integrate equity in practical and impactful ways I am confident that Rachel’s varied experience in equity, education, leadership, and social justice advocacy will bolster these efforts and ensure forward movement on our goals.”
Rachel is a native of North Carolina, and currently resides in Vermont where she most recently serves as Community Programs Officer for Vermont Humanities. She formerly served as Assistant Dean for Pluralism and Leadership and Advisor to First Generation and/or Low Income & Black students at Dartmouth College, as well as Director of the Center for Civic Advancement at Tusculum University in Greeneville, Tennessee.
“I am excited and humbled to have been invited to join Buncombe County government as a steward of this work,” notes Rachel. “I am buoyed as I enter this role, knowing how much has already been done and by the openness, enthusiasm, and willingness to collaborate that has been exemplified by the County Commissioners, Equity and Inclusion Workgroup, and community as a whole. As a native North Carolinian, I consider myself blessed to be welcomed into one of the State's most beautiful, dynamic, and diverse communities; my husband and I are eager to return to Appalachia and to make Buncombe County our home.”
Rachel’s first day is Monday, Nov. 1, and she will lead the County’s Equity & Inclusion Workgroup, provide support and consultation to departments and offices, and propel the countywide strategy for advancing equity and inclusion into organizational culture and service delivery. This position will also serve as a key liaison to the community and work to bolster the County’s equity and human rights efforts including the implementation of the County Racial Equity Action Plan and the Board of Commissioners’ reparations resolution.
Rachel Edens is an advocate, activist, educator, and organizer dedicated to promoting equity for under-represented, historically marginalized communities and individuals. She is a proud First Generation/ Low Income student from rural Eastern North Carolina and is passionate about seeing students from similarly under-resourced backgrounds thrive. Her work focuses on advancing equity across all intersections of identity, educating for civic engagement, and community asset building. For ten years, Rachel has consulted professionally in the areas of social justice education, restorative justice practices, and equity work.
Rachel holds a BA in English and African-American Studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a Masters in Public Administration from East Tennessee State University. She has trained students, faculty, staff, community members, and nonprofit leaders since 2009, and presents her practice and research widely, including the Gulf-South Summit on Service-Learning and Civic Engagement Through Higher Education, Campus Compact, the Appalachian Teaching Project, the International Association of Research on Civic Engagement and Service-Learning, the National Partnership for Educational Access, and African-American Women in Higher Education- New England. She has worked with the Theatre of War in productions of Antigone in Ferguson, the Jordan Russell Davis Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, and addresses audiences across the country as a keynote speaker and workshop leader.
She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Higher Education at the University of Massachusetts- Boston where her research interests include Education and Health Policy and Practice in rural communities of color in the American South, Critical Disability Studies, Black feminisms, and racism as a public health crisis.