The Interview USA
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
Vice Chancellor for Enrollment and Student Success

Erin Grisham

As college campuses evolve into diverse and dynamic communities, the need for a holistic approach to student safety – both physical and emotional – has never been more pressing. This understanding is central to the work of Erin Grisham, the Vice Chancellor for Enrollment and Student Success at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh (UWO).

Chris Mansfield, GoodCourse’s Client Services Lead, sat down with Erin to discuss topics ranging from the importance of peer-to-peer learning to strategies for promoting civil discourse across divides.

Erin's Journey

Chris: Let’s start with a brief introduction to you and your institution…

My name is Erin Grisham, and I currently serve as the Vice Chancellor for Enrollment and Student Success at UW Oshkosh. UWO is part of the University of Wisconsin System, which has 13 higher education institutions across the state, and we are one of the largest institutions in the system. Prior to coming to UWO, I spent 25 years at Northern Arizona University in a variety of roles. I like to say that my career has come full circle – I started out as a student leader as an undergrad, and now I get to work on the other side as an administrator

Chris: Student safety is a key concern, especially in the aftermath of the pandemic. What’s your approach to ensuring both physical and emotional safety on campus?

I think that emotional safety is paramount, particularly when coming out of a pandemic that has seen much higher levels of anxiety. Our institution has been highly focused on student mental health and wellbeing and students’ access to support. So we have partnered with other institutions in the system to adopt 24/7 online mental health support services to students, including psychiatric services. Many of our students are in rural parts of the state, so they might find it difficult to access local services. We also provide multilingual, multicultural therapists to support students from diverse backgrounds and personalize their care. We are also launching a peer-to-peer mental health support program for students to empower them to help each other, as well as helping students to relearn how to engage with each other socially and develop a sense of community and belonging. Coming out of the pandemic, many people became isolated and forgot how to engage – so we're creating opportunities for them to get more involved socially. As well as that, we also do all the traditional safety things, such as working with our police department and providing safe transportation for students late at night, among other things.

Chris: What sort of things have you found effective to convey your key messages to as many students as possible?

For us, that engagement mentality starts when we are recruiting students to the university. So our admissions team thinks carefully about what it means to come here, to try to get students engaged as early as possible. We reach out during the admissions and enrollment process, holding a big resource fair so students can see all the organizations they have the opportunity to get involved with and see our community and learn a bit more about what their student experience will be. For us, it really comes down to the quality of the programs that we provide. If you have high-quality programming that is relevant and interesting to students, that helps tremendously. Our faculty are tremendous partners in terms of encouraging students to come to events and increasing student participation in the community and helping students discover what they are passionate about.

Chris: In a time of increasing polarization, how can we encourage students to have constructive conversations across difference?

Well, there are two parts to that. The first is about how we can increase students’ awareness of their speech and its impact on others. The second is how we can help students decrease their reactivity to things that they might disagree with. This past year, we’ve worked with the NASPA and the Constructive Dialogue Institute to train a set of peers to help facilitate conversations among students. We’ve also extended that training to all of our community assistants and other peer leaders.

The First Amendment guarantees freedom of expression, but we also need to think about how to foster civil discourse and engage with different viewpoints. We have a center for civic engagement on campus that's led by faculty, and we're working with them to bridge divides in what’s looking to be a contentious election season. We really work hard to build trust with students because I think that's important, whilst trying to help them be less reactive to things they disagree with. On any college campus, you might have a guest speaker who comes in and says things that students find offensive. But instead of trying to have them shut down, students need to learn to listen, and respond thoughtfully with their own opinion.

Chris: How does your institution approach peer-to-peer learning and listening to the student voice?

Our university is really committed to peer-to-peer engagement. We have a team of peer mentors who work with our first-year students and students that faculty have raised an alert or concern about - those can be related to a variety of things. The response from students has been tremendous. Our entire first-year class and 76% of sophomores came in to meet with those mentors. That just shows you the power of peer-to-peer learning. We want to do the same with mental health support. Our campus has a very strong history and a foundation of shared governance. So we've worked very closely with student leaders; for instance, our Chancellor and Provost and I recently hosted a student town hall where we laid out the results of our financial and operations review and answered student questions. So we really do try to engage everybody, not just student leaders.

Chris: What’s the best piece of advice you've received during the course of your career?

Two things come to mind. My very first mentor in Higher Ed told me, “Never turn down an opportunity to step outside your comfort zone.” And I would also add that you should always leave the place better than you found it. 

Curious to see what the future of training looks like?
Chris Mansfield
Client Services
Chris is one of the Client Service leads at GoodCourse, dedicated to helping institutions better engage their audience to create a more inclusive, safer, and more successful environment. To request to be featured on the series, get in touch at

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