The Interview USA
The George Washington University
Vice Provost and Dean of Students

Colette Coleman

Universities are made up of students that come from a variety of different backgrounds, so inevitably there will be an equally varied range of viewpoints and perspectives. Being able to engage in a dialogue with those of differing opinions is essential. 

Colette Coleman Vice Provost and Dean of Students at The George Washington University spoke to GoodCourse Community Engagement Lead Kira Matthews about how she seeks to encourage and model constructive dialogue on campus, and the impact this can have on campus culture.

Colette's Journey

Kira: What brought you to Student Affairs?

I was working in the nonprofit and organizational development world and left for a career in Higher Education (HE).  I began my journey at the Mount Vernon campus of George Washington.  It’s a small liberal arts college attached to a larger urban institution which I thought was a very unique experience.

Kira: What made you want to leave your nonprofit role?

I was primarily working with 18-22 year olds during that time, which made me realize the importance of that age.  I think you can make a direct impact on someone’s life during that period.  Seeing the effects of your work and the impact that it has on the community and on individuals is very meaningful.  I’m always chasing that.

Kira: I know you previously held a role in residential engagement — is there anything you have brought from that role to your current one?

Those working in Residential Life at the time I joined had all followed a very similar path to get there, and my different background brought a new perspective and voice to that homogenous group.  It influenced the system in a way that made it better for everyone.  I think the takeaway here is that it’s valuable to look outside of the regular candidate when hiring to bring more diversity to the table. This enables us to hear so many different voices and come up with new ideas together.

Diversification of the workforce is also really valuable for students, bringing them more voices and viewpoints that might be different from the ones they arrived with.

Diversification of the workforce is also really valuable for students, bringing them more voices and viewpoints that might be different from the ones they arrived with.

Kira: How do you support students to step into leadership roles even after the pandemic?

It’s a huge question because our students missed out on so much during that time period.  Because of this, the conversations we've been having are around how we support our students in a more hands-on way.  Ordinarily, it would be about letting students lead, but there also needs to be some kind of safety net so that students don’t ever feel like they have failed with their end product.

It’s about being more supportive and doing a bit more hand-holding just for now, to give students what they need in order to get to that position of transferring knowledge to one another.  Student Affairs is about being agile and shifting your philosophy as needed.

Kira: What is your approach to belonging during this time?

First and foremost, the thing to remember is that we are all humans and we are all different. Just because we don’t all share the same views it doesn't mean we can't engage in a dialogue and be respectful to one another on that human level.  

I think a vital part is having dialogue be modeled and showing students what that looks like while being respectful towards one another.  If we are coming from different viewpoints, it’s about assuming that people come with the best intentions and acknowledging that one view does not take away from another.  There isn't always room or space made for that mutual existence of ideas, and I think it’s really important that we make space.

I believe that this is a problem worth solving, but not one that we are going to be able to solve immediately or by ourselves — it needs to happen across society.

Kira: How are you advancing cultural competence to create that welcoming environment?

Cultural competency is really about exposure, and for the past few years, we have had a lack of that.  We have been online and on social media, and that’s where we are able to curate our lives and what we are exposed to, and curate what people see of us.  Now, bringing students back onto campus has been a big adjustment for everyone because of that shift back to being in person.  We can’t be done with an interaction and turn the screen off, and that has had a huge impact on cultural competency.  It’s vulnerable to be in that position of allowing exposure to new things, but it’s essential.

3 Quick-fire Questions

Kira: What advice would you give anyone looking to begin a career in HE?

You need to be willing to have a lot of emotional intelligence and put in a lot of emotional management.  HE is a people business and everyone is student-facing, no matter the role.

Kira: Who do you admire the most in HE?

Jim Ryan, president of UVA.  He listens to the smart people that he surrounds himself with and really acts on building that inclusivity that we all speak about wanting.

Kira: What is the most important book you have read?

I don’t think I can give that title to just one book — there are far too many! But I can give a favorite podcast, which is called Moonshots. I listen every morning and it’s one of my daily joys — they speak a lot about leadership and they break down a lot of really amazing books too.

Curious to see what the future of training looks like?
Kira Matthews
Community Engagement Lead
Kira leads our community outreach team working hand-in-hand with changemakers on both sides of the pond. If you want to join the next series of The Interview, or just learn more about GoodCourse, then get in touch at

The future of training is here, are you ready for it?

Tired of chasing your learners to complete dull training? Let's speak today👇
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.