At the heart of any successful institution of Higher Education (HE)is a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and student affairs plays a key role in making that a reality. No one understands this better than Glenn McIntosh, Senior Vice President (VP) for Student Affairs and Chief Diversity Officer at Oakland University, who has led the way in integrating DEI into the student experience.
Glenn sat down with Kitty Hadaway, GoodCourse’s Universities Lead, to discuss advancing cultural competency, safeguarding student safety on campus, and the importance of leadership in HE.
I currently hold the unique dual role of Senior Vice President for Student Affairs and Chief Diversity Officer at Oakland University. Previously, I served as the VP of Student Affairs. When our President, Dr. Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, discovered my extensive experience in DEI, she asked me to expand my job title and duties to reflect the university's commitment to advancing DEI.
Oakland University is a comprehensive research institution located in Rochester, Michigan, approximately 30 miles from Detroit. We offer over 125 academic disciplines and serve around 16,000 students.
I firmly believe that student affairs and DEI can work together to create a more inclusive university environment. Every university should aim to foster a sense of welcome and belonging for all members of the community, including faculty, staff, and students. At Oakland, we recognize this and have established a Diversity Council that brings together representatives from across the institution. The council meets regularly to develop a strategic DEI plan and implement it across all areas of the university. As the senior vice president, I oversee 24 direct reporting units that collaborate to build a supportive and welcoming learning and working environment for everyone. In my role, I set clear expectations for each unit to advance student success and promote DEI.
I first came to Oakland to start the Office of Minority Equity Minority, though my professional background was in academic advising, housing, and student recruitment. I grew up in a predominantly African-American community before attending a predominantly White college. So that sense of belonging wasn’t really there. I’m outgoing, so I tried to put myself out there, becoming an orientation group leader and a residential advisor. I learned so much about people: I realized we all have a common need for help and to give help to each other, frankly, we all have more similarities than differences.
Project Upward Bound (PUB) has been an integral part of my DEI work, both personally and professionally. As someone who grew up in a lower-income family, I was fortunate enough to enroll in the program as a high school student thanks to the encouragement of a counselor. Years later, I returned to the program as an instructor, working with students who may not have seen college as a possibility for themselves. The program's philosophy is centered on taking underrepresented students and creating a vision to help them achieve their dreams. Working with these students and help them navigate the path to HE has been a privilege. Ironically, PUB is now among my direct-report departments.
The number one thing is empathy. You need to relate to people on an emotional level — understand that everyone struggles and that everybody doubts themselves sometimes. As a leader, you have to realize that you are there to serve people. You first need to understand people’s needs and wants before you can build an agenda to help them.
You need to relate to people on an emotional level — understand that everyone struggles and that everybody doubts themselves sometimes.
During orientation, we do a lot of training to explain the importance of DEI. We meet with students and parents to show our resources to support different groups, such as people with disabilities, LGBT+ folks, and military veterans. We’re constantly raising awareness and running programs in collaboration with our student organizations. We’ve also been using different platforms to meet students where they are: with the pandemic, we had to move many things online, and we learned we needed to be adaptable. Covid was a challenge but also allowed us to advance DEI among our student body.
Freedom of speech is very important, but there’s a question about where we draw the line. There’s so much unrest and discontent in our society — pair that with the reach of social media, and a lot of inappropriate speech is thrown around. Our young people are a reflection of our society, so when leaders are disrespectful, they sometimes mimic that. We must set clear expectations of behavior and speech and a positive example.
Ensuring student safety is a top priority for all university leaders. To help students feel safe on campus, we must work together and build bridges between different departments and stakeholders. It's essential to listen to students and find out what they think is lacking in terms of safety measures. Our university has created online portals to allow students to report inappropriate behavior anonymously. Additionally, we have made changes to create a safer campus, including installing more security cameras and blue-light phones that directly connect to emergency services.
I have found that students are most engaged in peer-to-peer spaces, particularly within student organizations and cultural and LGBT+ communities. Many students are seeking support in this tech-dependent world, which has affected interpersonal communication. As we know, engagement is crucial for student success and retention, so we always encourage students to get involved.
I strongly believe in leading by example. It's not enough to talk the talk; you need to walk the walk. As a role model, I strive to stand up for what's right, walk tall, and embody our shared values. Consistency is key. When people look up to you, they want to see that you treat others with dignity and respect. By consistently modeling the behavior we expect from others, we can create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for everyone.