To My Colleagues in Student Affairs,
This is not the message I hoped to send to all of you on my first official week as Interim Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs. Sunday evening, we received a message from Chancellor Martin reflecting on the horrific murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25th, as well as the internal work we are committed to doing around equity and inclusion here at Washington University.
I want to first address my African American colleagues in the Division. What happened is not right. The killing of George Floyd follows other brutal and racially motivated murders in the past few months – Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, and countless others before that. I cannot know the depths of what you are feeling and experiencing, but please know that I see you, I hear you, and I am grieving with you.
As a community we have witnessed many powerful, peaceful protests following these tragedies, however the violence and disruption of peace we are watching nightly on the streets of our cities – including right here in St. Louis – is impacting all of us in very different ways. The fact that we remain isolated from one another due to the pandemic has affected our ability to cope with all these events and connect in person with our colleagues together as a student affairs community.
Since not everyone in the Division has worked closely with me, I also wanted to use this note to share a bit about me. I was honored to attend Washington University as an undergraduate student from 1989-1993. My wife, Angie, and I met as students at WashU and we moved back to St. Louis in 1999 and started our family here. Our four kids have grown up around WashU. I came to college with little understanding of my many privileged identities. It was here, for the first time in my life I became friends with people who didn’t look like me, had different perspectives than me, and who challenged me to think differently about my world. I was taught by great faculty, who expanded and challenged my knowledge of history and helped me understand the importance of activism and social change. But perhaps my greatest education – outside of my friends and classes – came from the mentors I had in student affairs. From leaders like all of you, who cared about every student and who pushed me to do and be better. They listened and created spaces for growth and learning. It is why I chose a graduate program and career in higher education. I imagine many of you have had similar experiences that brought you to this work. Each of you are so important to this moment in our history, for our students, and each other.
I know we are experiencing pain. I know many of us feel uncertain about our collective future and the ongoing struggle for true equity. Systemic racism exists here at WashU like it does in our world. We were reminded last week that racial equity is still a distant aspiration. In this struggle we cannot lose sight of our goals and the individual work each of us must do to remain on the path of progress. At our University, in our work with each other and with our students, we have an opportunity to create change. It is here, in doing this work that I see the future that is possible.
Dr. White was an incredible leader for our Division – one of her best gifts to the University during her time here was the outstanding and diverse team of leaders she helped recruit and develop. I want to include a collective message from us – your leadership team in Student Affairs – about our shared support for all of you and our plans in the weeks ahead for you and our students.
Interim Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs
Message from the Student Affairs Leadership Team and Action Steps
It is hard to find the words to describe our feelings in this moment. Nothing will be enough to address the weight of emotion we are carrying. These past three months have been brutal. We have asked all of you to focus on your work and our students, who have been angry, sad, confused, and depressed. We live in a world filled with difficult budget conversations, furloughs, and our own emotions related to uncertainty and loss. A key lifeline has been taken away from us in our ability to connect with one another in person. These moments we’ve been challenged with seem, merciless. The events of the past week have shaken all of us. This has left us feeling enraged, heartbroken, hurt, confused and questioning of the work towards racial justice and equity we have dedicated our lives and careers to progress. We know we are not alone in this work and that these feelings and many more are shared with each of you.
In difficult times, we must come together. As a close-knit community that values dialogue and support of one another, we want to hold space to grieve, process, and listen. We know many of you have been reaching out and supporting one another already, but we want to create space this week to connect as staff, to reflect on what has happened, and to talk about the actions we need to take as a community and as individuals.
The Division of Student Affairs will host two types of open dialogue sessions to discuss the impact of the killing of George Floyd. The first will be an open dialogue with groups of 10-15 facilitated over Zoom. The second discussion will be an affinity space for those who identify as Black/African American, White, Communities of Color, APIDA, Latinx, women, men, and LGBTQIIA+. You can sign up for the discussions and provide a preference for an affinity discussion here. Once we know how many people are interested we will assign groups and facilitators, and send out a Zoom invite.
Additional University programs, including a virtual vigil on Friday from 11:30 – noon, where we can engage in reflection with our campus community, and action-focused forum are being planned for the next few weeks.
We are here to support our students, but in order for us to do this, we need you to support each other and stay connected. Your personal well-being is critical right now. Let’s work together to find proactive and creative ways to both listen and remain engaged to the array of perspectives within our community. We must work together with our students to provide the spaces they need to process and develop their own collective and individual action plans.
If you have suggestions or ideas, for how we can be better, let us know. The hope for our future is in our students, each of you, and the work we will do together. We are here for every single one of you. You matter. We see you.
Your Student Affairs Leadership Team,
Anthony Azama, John M. Schael Director of Athletics
Kirk Dougher, Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Support and Well-Being
Robyn Hadley, Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs & Dean of Scholar Programs
Mark Kamimura Jimenez, Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs & Dean of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion
Kawanna Leggett, Interim Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Transition and Engagement & Dean of Students
Christie Livingston, Manager of Financial Operations
James Parker, Chief of Staff and Associate Dean for Strategic Initiatives
Mark Smith, Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs & Dean for Career Services
Sarah Steinkamp, Assistant Dean for Education & Special Initiatives
Rob Wild, Interim Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs