Providing peer support is an important part of any professional’s working life. Within the Higher Education (HE) sector, it’s essential to share best practices, overcome difficulties, and ultimately enhance the student experience for all who study.
Kimberley Goff-Crews, Secretary and Vice President for University Life at Yale University, sat down with Kira Matthews to discuss Kimberley’s journey into student affairs, collaborating with other HE leaders, and more.
I have one of the best jobs! I’m Secretary and Vice President for University Life, which means I’m deeply engaged in conversations, policy and practice around creating the best environment for everybody who works and learns here, as well as our alumni.
I focus on the student experience — and strategically, what we have to have in place to make sure they’re getting the best experience. I like to think about how people can learn, teach and create in this environment.
In terms of my day-to-day, I also am concerned about Title IX and Title VI, formal and informal resolutions that address issues of discrimination and harassment. I also like to celebrate success, which we have a team for — commencement, and big speakers we invite to campus, which is really what we’re known for.
This isn’t what I thought I would be doing. I was practicing bankruptcy law early in my career, so this was quite a change! However, in that job, I learned how to listen carefully and think about institutional cultures, understand what people’s needs are, and envision a future.
I wanted to use those skills in a different way; my joy is in enabling people to be their best selves. I’ve been working in universities for 25+ years now.
We define it around belonging — what does it mean to belong to Yale, what does it mean to have the resources and experience available to you to get the most out of your time here? DEI means tools for maintaining excellence.
We ask ourselves what we’re doing at a leadership level in our different units to foster that, and what we need to learn about and implement. Every administrative unit has a plan around diversity in the community. There are about 150 people working on this, and also measuring our success. We’re very actively engaged and talking about it all the time.
We’ve been focusing on first-gen students. One way is by raising a lot of funds for tuition, as part of a campaign to underwrite some of the expenses associated with study. It’s not just about the money you give first-generation low-income students coming in, but also once they’re here. For example, what resources do they need to partake in internships, because many are unpaid?
We’ve also done work on mental health, increasing the number and diversity of our counselors.
And we’re also working with student leaders to figure out what the issues are — that’s always the first thing.
I meet with different groups routinely to go over issues. We start when student leaders are first elected, to lay out the issues they ran on and where they want to see progress. I mentor them on the ways the university works, and figure out what we can achieve.
Education outside the classroom is just as important as education inside the classroom. We have 800 student organizations! We try to ensure all students can access these, regardless of background
Education outside the classroom is just as important as education inside the classroom. We have 800 student organizations! We try to ensure all students can access these, regardless of background — because it’s so important for growing, learning, and acquiring leadership abilities.
We’re very much focused on providing support to our peers, so the opportunity to be on these national boards is a way to contribute to conversations we’re having on these topics, including DEI and belonging. To learn and share best practices, and help shape some of the dialogue.
I’m also on an accreditation board, and it’s really good to speak to people at community colleges because they’re having the same problems we have at private institutions.
Be clear about what the question is that you’re pursuing, as opposed to the problem you’re trying to solve because those are two different things. For example, DEI is part of a solution to the question ‘how do we promote excellence in this institution?’
Elizabeth Alexander, she’s the president of the Mellon foundation. She’s a poet, and does a lot of work on memorials around slavery.
It’s the one I’m about to read — I love to learn, particularly about belonging at the moment. For me, what’s important is going to museums, poetry readings et cetera. Museums are curated spaces where you can investigate history and art, and interact with issues in a very different way, which is equally as important as reading a book.