It can prove difficult to build enduring connections with the alumni of a university post-graduation. Engaging underrepresented alumni in ways that actively address the specific issues they face can be even tougher.
Ivana Marshall aims to rectify this outreach gap in her work as Assistant Director of Alumni Engagement and Inclusion Initiatives at William & Mary. GoodCourse Universities Lead Kitty Hadaway sat down with Ivana to talk about her journey into the DEI sphere and how she applies inclusive principles in her work listening to, and engaging with, William & Mary’s diverse alumni.
I’m currently Assistant Director of Alumni Engagement and Inclusion Initiatives at William & Mary. I graduated from my alma mater 5 years ago and have worked in a number of fields before landing here – I worked in the governor’s office of Virginia, then moved into finance, which didn’t work out – I was a double humanities graduate, so finance didn’t last long for me!
The ‘’other’ box is extremely damaging to alumni because we’re telling them you don’t fit in. We have moved away from ‘other’ and added the option to list yourself.
After leaving finance, I moved back home with my mom, and this is when I moved into Higher Education. I started working in the international office of a university, so was I able to put my degree to use. I found I absolutely love the environment of Higher Education; there are so many opportunities. I applied to the alumni office of William & Mary 3 years ago and have been content here ever since.
Part of what helped me get my job was my Women, Gender and Sexuality undergraduate minor – it helped me approach being inclusive in my studies, which I immediately transferred into my work environment. The central premise is seeing people as entire human beings regardless of the identities we ascribe to them.
No matter what our team goal is, whether we are adjusting a policy for the university or rewriting our diversity statement, I want the way we’re going to impact the humans around us to be at the forefront of our minds.
A big part of it is getting opinions. I approach my work democratically, I’m not the sole driver of the projects I lead. I’m chairing the University Advancement Diversity and Inclusion committee right now. I spent the first 6 months listening; I met with committee members and past committee leaders and asked them questions about what worked, what didn’t, and how did those things affected their experiences within Advancement. It doesn’t make sense for me to assume I understand lived experiences I haven’t lived.
I don’t consider myself a DEI expert, I’m constantly learning – I would never consider myself an expert! I know that identities are socially constructed, but that they are also constantly evolving. I think it’s difficult to call oneself an expert and also keep up with all of the nuances. When it comes to diversity, there’s no way to know everything.
I’ve recently come to learn the term gender nonconformity has come in favor and gender non-conforming is out. This is a great example of acknowledging that you are not an expert on a matter. I was speaking to an alum who helps advise my work with the LGBTQ+ alumni community and she was telling me gender nonconformity is what was preferred on the form, so I changed it. It was a simple change to make but the additional guidance from the alum made the difference.
I work with a variety of groups who have advised me on terminology. For example, we decided to group Asian-Pacific Islander-Middle Eastern/Southwest Asian alumni (APIM) together. You’re probably thinking that’s an interesting group – we modeled it after our Asian and Middle Eastern studies department. As far as I’m aware, an APIM alumni grouping doesn’t exist anywhere else in the US. People ask why they grouped together like this. It was then that I realized it probably wasn’t the best idea. Currently, we’re deciding whether to rename or if we want to focus on things we have in common aside from geographic groupings and we are finding that we do.
I identify as a Black/African American woman – since I don’t identify with lived experiences outside of my own, it is critical for me to listen to these groups. I want to actively and intentionally serve groups in the ways that they are clearly stating to me.
Language is terribly important. Another thing that’s important is data disaggregation – we historically didn’t ask for several identities, e.g. Latinx, LGBTQ+, and at some points it was because we didn’t want to out people. We are a state university and mirror many of our data collection habits after state and federal practices. When you look at the way the US census has evolved, for example, there just weren’t a ton of options to identify people accurately.
The ‘’other’ box is extremely damaging to alumni because we’re telling them you don’t fit in. We have moved away from ‘other’ and added the option to list yourself. You might use Hispanic or Latinx, or list your country of origin. Someone then combs through that data and assigns you to a group that makes sense. There’s a larger national problem of us not being curious enough or being inclusive enough of various identities.
I’m currently earning my master’s degree so I approach DEI work with an academic lens. Within DEI work, there are people at various stages of the continuum – some people completely ‘get it’ – and then there are those in the middle, recognising the importance but may not know where to get started. Then there are those actively working against it or who don’t want to be involved. When you can reference DEI-based research or academic texts, people are more likely to say ‘OK, this is important – someone has taken the time to write about this.’
I’m personally proud of my collaborations across campus. There are more people doing the work than I realized, no matter their job title. When we are able to work across departments and teams, it makes the work much easier and more fun.
My team is focused on increasing the engagement, leadership and philanthropy of our identity-based alumni communities. If I’m talking to someone and we’re not really on the same page about the importance of inclusivity, I have a whole folder ready. Research, data and statistics are great, but first person narratives are also really important.
One of the things we do within the University Advancement D&I Committee is host a voluntary book club, where we have been reading accounts of people on race and racism. I have found that it’s common to lack awareness as to how people different than us are experiencing the world. I really appreciate first person accounts because they’re so eye-opening.
Our APIM alumni group just started receiving support from the Alumni Association through my work last year. We are also celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the first Asian student on our campus. Visibility comes up repeatedly when we ask our alumni about what’s important to their engagement.
On visibility, we make sure you can see people’s faces. We have an awesome social media team, and our alumni magazine (which seems to be the way most people connect with our alumni community), newsletters, Facebook – whatever the medium is – we aim to make sure we are telling the stories of how our alumni experienced William & Mary from their voices.
Show up authentically as yourself. You don’t have to put on any sort of mask. Be exactly who you are. People want to be celebrated but people also want to celebrate you – it’s been a big factor in my success in this role.
It’s nearly impossible to answer this! Let me start with the characteristics of colleagues I admire the most who are doing DEI work. Firstly, being collaborative by not seeing people as competing for resources, time and or the attention spans of the groups they serve. Instead, I admire people who take the opportunity to work together to better the university’s mission and environment.
I also appreciate people who are smarter than I am. Sometimes I have good ideas, but 99% of the time, I’m getting ideas from alumni and students. I see myself as a connector who helps implement DEI work through the people who advise me.
Overall, the one person I most look up to in HE is my mom. She has been in the space since she earned her doctorate. I grew up on college campuses and I have seen how she has progressed throughout her career and I’m so excited to follow in her leadership footsteps.
A resource I lean on heavily is material from the American Council on Education (ACE) – I do a lot of my graduate school research on Women of Color college presidents and ACE researchers have done an awesome job of interviewing those presidents, disaggregating that data, telling those first person narratives, and distributing it to the masses. It’s an extraordinarily helpful resource to me.