Students’ needs are always changing, and institutions need to be adaptable in the support they provide. Kimberly Moore, Associate Vice President and Dean of Students at Miami University in Ohio, has led the way in this regard, helping to make Higher Education (HE) more accessible and inclusive for all.
Kimberly sat down with GoodCourse Community Engagement Lead Kira Matthews to discuss increasing accessibility, promoting inclusion for students from underrepresented backgrounds, and the debate surrounding free speech on college campuses.
Sure! I am currently Associate Vice President and Dean of Students at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Ultimately, my responsibility is to oversee residence life, student disability services, community standards, and the office of the Dean of Students. I lead our efforts in retention, persistence, and graduation in partnership with other divisions across the university. I also play a significant role in advancing our DEI goals.
It’s a really long story, so I’ll give you the short version. I started my career in marketing and advertising in Chicago: I landed a great job right out of college, and I thought I was on the right path. But I soon realized it wasn’t for me, and I started to reflect on my purpose. When a former professor invited me to speak at my alma mater, it really opened my eyes to working with young people. So I applied to do my Masters in HE, and my journey in the field began from there.
Every university is different, but we have solid foundations at Miami that have helped us improve retention. We’re not an open-access institution, so we have baseline requirements for admission. But we’re always striving to increase our retention rate, and we’re taking a few initiatives to help us to do that. I’m co-chair of a university-wide committee that brings together academic affairs, enrolment management, and student life. This partnership helps us identify at-risk students so we can intervene early. Because we can target our support, we can manage our resources to reach more students. It’s important to see students as people, not numbers, let them know they aren’t alone, and help them get the support they need.
It’s important to see students as people, not numbers, let them know they aren’t alone, and help them get the support they need.
Our Disability Services Office is incredible. We have some real national leaders working there. On the ground, we make sure to connect students with support services and work with facilities to increase accessibility. Technology is more important than ever: we have some incredible partners in IT to make our digital resources more accessible. But it’s also important to remember not all disabilities are visible. For instance, psychological and neurological support is our fastest-growing category of need. Our staff must strive to understand students’ stories and that their needs are evolving.
This university was founded in 1809: we have so much institutional history, but not all of it is positive. So our strategy needs to be multi-pronged: to bring about a university-wide change in culture, our policies, procedures, and access must be reassessed. To reach hearts and minds, we need to meet students where they are. Our minimum expectation is to create an inclusive environment for all, but we need to go further and ask some difficult questions. In each of my departments, we have introduced diversity audits, which look at the way we are recruiting students and staff. At every director’s annual review, we ask how they are trying to advance DEI. Lastly, it was Michelle Obama who said, “You can’t hate up close” — so we work to create more opportunities for inter-group dialogue to heal some of those divides.
This is a public institution, and we have a responsibility to uphold the free speech principles of this country. Many students today are passionate about social justice and inclusion, but sometimes this can lead to those who do not 100% align with their ideology being excluded for questioning. Some student organizations have a prescriptive ideology, and it can be difficult for students who fall on the wrong side of that. There is a conflict there between groups’ right to organize and the individual’s right to free speech. These issues are incredibly complex, but our priority must be to support students’ right to free expression.
It’s not for the faint of heart! You need to know why you want to do it. You should interview as many practitioners as possible and enter a HE program that is practitioner-based. Many people come in knowing the theory, but you must also know how to apply it in practice.
One woman comes to mind — Cissy Petty, who retired just recently. After working at several institutions, she finished her career as the Vice President of Student Affairs at George Washington University. She’s a courageous leader, and we need more people like her.
That’s easy; I have it hanging on my wall! It’s The Alchemist by Pablo Coehlo. It’s a simple book on the surface, one you could read in an afternoon — but if you read it a hundred times, you’ll come away with something different every time. It’s truly a beautiful book.