The Interview USA
Farmingdale State College
Vice President for Inclusive Excellence and Chief Diversity Officer

Kevin Jordan

As institutions of Higher Education strive to create inclusive environments, the promotion of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has emerged as a key imperative. Through intentional efforts, practitioners can cultivate safe and inclusive campus communities, establishing a sense of belonging that transcends all barriers. 

Kevin Jordan, Vice President for Inclusive Excellence and Chief Diversity Officer at Farmingdale State College, spoke to The Interview Co-Host Max Webber to reflect on his career in higher education and discuss some of the most pressing issues facing the sector today.

Kevin's Journey

Max: Can we start with a brief introduction to yourself and your current role? 

I’ve been in higher education for 42 years, and I’ve spent most of that time as a Student Affairs practitioner. I cut my teeth working very closely with support services programs, particularly with HEOPs (Higher Education Opportunity Programs). Those programs are designed for students who are encountering difficulties with academic preparation or the ability to finance their education; if students meet certain eligibility criteria, such as if they fall below a certain income threshold, then they will qualify for additional financial and academic support services. Back in the day, we called it “intrusive counseling”, but we now use the term “proactive intervention.”

Max: What inspired you to pursue a career in student affairs?

I’ve always had an interest in education, and I’ve discovered that Student Affairs is the avenue where I can best impact the lives of students. I was particularly drawn to the field of student development, which is something I think colleges don’t always spend enough time on. Cognitive growth and personal development go hand-in-hand, but we often forget that. Students get a lot of guidance through high school, but once they arrive at college, they are often left on their own; we need to remember that our students are always developing, and be there to support them. I was also inspired by my brother, who also pursued a career in Student Affairs and became a role model to me. 

Max: Safety is a huge concern for many students. What’s your biggest focus in this area at the moment?

When I’m dealing with any issue involving students, my first concern is always hearing their voice. Just because I’ve been in the sector for 42 years, it doesn’t mean I know what’s best! I don’t believe that one size fits all. So I start with listening to students’ concerns, learning where they feel safe or unsafe, and educating myself about the challenges they face. I use that data to develop programs and get the college to buy into them. When students feel comfortable in their environment and feel a sense of belonging, it leads to higher retention and completion rates. At the end of the day, we still need to think about the bottom line, and an inclusive learning environment can only help that. I also maintain an open-door policy so students can come to my office with anything. That can be challenging, but I think it’s necessary to build trust and dialogue. 

Max: What initiatives have you introduced to help students from all backgrounds feel a sense of community and belonging?

I’ve led a few programs in this area. One of them is the development of affinity groups for students. When trying to develop a milieu of belonging, these groups help us identify what resources might be needed to support particular populations of students. That really helps us gather the intel we need to act. It’s also important to make sure students are aware of the available resources and support, so I maintain a very comprehensive website that includes information about all the different types of programs at our institution. I believe in the power of technology, but you also need to keep boots on the ground, and there’s no substitute for speaking with students face-to-face. 

Max: Students have busy lives outside of their studies. What’s the key to getting students engaged around critical issues such as DEI?

There are a number of initiatives I’ve helped to develop here at Farmingdale. We now have a mandatory first-year experience course to help acclimate students to collegiate life and explain what’s expected of them here. It’s a twelve-week curriculum, and three weeks of that is a unit on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The purpose of that is for students to take an introspective look at their own experiences and how they relate to others around them. To really appreciate DEI, you need to have a clear understanding of your own history, whatever that may be. 

Outside of the classroom, we also have student organizations such as the local chapter of the NAACP, the Afro-Caribbean club, and LASO (Latin American Students Organization). They play a key role in engaging students from minoritized groups and building bridges between students and the administration. As a leader, you need to be both visible and accessible. But most of all, you need to be authentic if you want to build trust. 

Max: Fifty-five percent of students experience some form of hazing on campus. How are you trying to challenge this at Farmingdale?

We’ve recently instituted a new student portal that allows them to log any complaint they may have. Then, a different investigator will be assigned based on the type of complaint, whether that’s hazing or any other form of unacceptable behavior. That portal is highly comprehensive, and it even lets students upload evidence such as video files to support their complaints. It’s useful to have a centralized system to try and track data in a systematic way. 

In some cases, students might feel uncomfortable reporting incidents because they fear retaliation from their peers. But ultimately, we all have a responsibility to call out unacceptable behavior when we see it. So we need to help students feel comfortable speaking up. They need to see that the institution won’t brush issues under the carpet; that we will respond. As practitioners, we need to understand student’s mindset and priorities. Most of all, we need to show students that they have power, and how they can exercise it in a responsible way.

Max: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

I have a few! When I was teaching, I always used the mantra: “Good, better, best; never let them rest; until your good is better, and your better best.”

I also remember the words of Howard Thurman, the great African American theologian, who said “Find the genuine in you.” Don’t go out and try to excite the world; discover what excites you, then go out and bring it to the world.

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Max Webber
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