Actively exposing students to different careers and skill sets is an excellent way to illustrate the wealth of opportunity at the feet of young people. Kevin McDonald, Vice President of DEI and Community Partnerships at the University of Virginia has blazed a trail in this regard, with his M/WOCHA initiatives that provide Students of Color with the skills, resources and experiences to succeed in the working world and beyond.
Kevin sat down with GoodCourse Community Engagement Lead, Kira Matthews, to discuss how he came to Higher Education (HE), his work building community partnerships, elevating marginalized students and more.
I’m the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI) and Community Partnerships at the University of Virginia. I was at the University of Missouri priorly, and my role came out of the 2015 protests, ignited by Michael Brown’s death. Initially, I didn’t think the timing was right to move, but I had a hometown connection to a member of the search committee and loved the leadership style of Jim Ryan, the President.
My wife would say I owe my entire university career to her! I used to have a job resolving disputes between trademark holders and domain name registrants. But I started my career working for the department of justice, investigating discrimination complaints. My wife found a position in the newspaper advertising a job as a campus compliance officer at the University of Maryland — she thought it had my name written all over it.
With organizations and communities, there’s an opportunity to build a bridge, or a wall. It’s incredibly important to have relationships between the two. Some students can spend their entire academic career without stepping foot in the city once.
With organizations and communities, there’s an opportunity to build a bridge, or a wall. It’s incredibly important to have relationships between the two.
Community Engagement has really evolved, when I first started we were talking about community relations but when I came here, we started thinking about our complex history, which was far more extractive – especially with things like research, and our ties to slavery. That’s why the name has changed to community partnerships, because that’s much more co-creative.
There’s some great work by the Equity Center that’s really focused on addressing inequities within the community. They have an Equity Atlas where they worked with local governments to highlight the pockets of inequity on a number of different fronts — similar to a heatmap.
We have those efforts and efforts in the health space like mobile health units — anything that recognises that there are issues to access. Systems and structures act as impediments to progress just by virtue of where someone lives.
It’s been a labour of love for me. There’s an academic trend that shows that women outperform men when it comes to academic performance, persistence and graduation. So we wanted to create an overarching initiative for men, but I felt that it had even more implications for young Men of Color at predominantly White institutions.
We partnered with Dale Carnegie, a global organization that provides executive-level workshops on everything from relationships to giving high-impact presentations. It was amazing and opened up so many opportunities — it also featured wellness classes, cooking classes, students got new professional outfits too. Everyone was saying ‘you could pick a MOCHA man out of a crowd’, so its sister initiative WOCHA was born soon after.
So many companies were excited about hiring M/WOCHA students, and we also rolled it out to schools, and have implemented a tiered mentoring system — older students will be mentoring younger students and getting paid!
The research shows how important it is. Not being able to find your friend group and feeling generally socially isolated is so damaging. We’re giving funding to M/WOCHA students to create a program that will enhance belonging. We’re putting the power into their hands.
Sometimes you have to go to grow. I’ve taken opportunities that have given me the ability to grow — they may not have been the most diverse area or metropolitan place but the opportunities were amazing.
Freeman Hrabowski from the University of Maryland. He’s retired now, but his work has been transformational. He’s an amazing person and a model for so many of us out there, as a high-achieving person of color.
Ray Gillian, the person that hired me at John Hopkins university has been a great mentor to me. He’s also retired and taught me not only about education, but also how to be a good husband and father.
A book that launched me into the DEI career, called The Inclusion Breakthrough.