The Interview USA
Morgan State University
Associate Vice President and Dean of Students

Letitia Williams

As student bodies on college campuses become increasingly diverse, it’s more important than ever for institutions to help students feel included. Letitia Williams, Associate Vice President and Dean of Students at Morgan State University, has led the way in this regard, working tirelessly to help students from diverse backgrounds feel a sense of belonging. 

Letitia sat down with GoodCourse Community Engagement Lead, Kira Matthews, to discuss her path into Higher Education (HE), her experience supporting marginalized students, and how to create a culture that not only accepts diversity, but embraces it. 

Letitia’s Journey

Kira: What brought you to student affairs?

I think there were two things. First, my experience as a student: I came to the University of Maryland from Trinidad and Tobago on a Fulbright Scholarship. My graduate assistantships helped to expand my worldview in terms of student affairs. The second influence was my upbringing: I was raised by a single mother in a family with a strong commitment to community service and uplifting others. So Student Affairs felt like a natural fit. 

Kira: I know you used to work at the University of Trinidad and Tobago. How did that experience influence the work you are now doing in the US?

I come to this work as a Black Caribbean woman, as an immigrant in this country. So in some respects I am a cultural outsider. But that also allows me insight into the experiences of students who might feel the same way. HE has its own culture: it’s middle class, it’s heterosexual. But we have many students who don’t fit into those boxes: international students, students from lower-income families, LGBTQ+ students. So I use my experience to try and put myself in the shoes of those students so I can help to support their transition into HE. 

Kira: It’s interesting to hear how your personal experience inspired the work you are doing with students. As universities become more diverse, how can we make students feel like they belong?

I’ve done some research on this topic with Elizabeth Niehaus, from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Our research looked at the role that support services play in students’ sense of belonging and also the barriers to student inclusion. In a nutshell, we found that student affairs practitioners had a positive effect on student belonging, but not enough of those interactions were taking place.

A university is a melting pot, with people from all kinds of backgrounds, so we need to improve our cultural competence as well as that of our students. 

We also noted the importance of co-curricular activities on student engagement, and examined how professionals can facilitate interactions between students of diverse backgrounds. A university is a melting pot, with people from all kinds of backgrounds, so we need to improve our cultural competence as well as that of our students. 

Kira: It’s important to be respectful of difference. How can we create a culture where students come together to celebrate and support each other?

There are two or three ways to do that. A lot of our work starts with having a robust sense of who students are. I don’t just mean GPAs — but the identities that inform their perspective on the world. Intention is important, you need to plan to make things happen. As practitioners, we need to have a strong methodology to carry out those plans. Finally, it’s important that staff develop cultural competence and are always mindful of students’ needs. 

Kira: Earlier, you mentioned interactions between support staff and students. How can we make those interactions more frequent?

You have to get out there: walk the campus, see students, and strike up conversations wherever you go. It’s important to have regular interactions — I invite different groups of students to meet with me, to hear what is happening in their lives. Another thing that’s invaluable is social media, as it lets us reach a larger number of students right where they are and they can provide immediate feedback, giving us another way to hear from and connect with students.

It’s important to meet with student leaders, as they have a perspective we can’t afford to ignore. Of course, we also have the staff, and I always make sure to listen to what they are saying. Finally, it’s useful to look at data to try and find larger trends. Universities are microcosms of where students come from: at Morgan, many of our students come from Baltimore, so it’s important that we know what’s happening there. 

3 Quick-fire Questions

Kira: What’s your top tip for anyone getting into HE?

It’s important to come in with an understanding of your purpose. This work is very rewarding, and there are so many ways to develop your career. But it is also taxing — so having a reason to be here keeps you from getting overwhelmed. 

Kira: Who do you admire the most in the HE or DEI spaces?

There are two people I greatly admire, both VPs of Student Affairs: Gabrielle St. Léger at La Salle University, and Patty Perillo at the University of Maryland. Gabby was a first-generation student, and she uses that experience to bring care and understanding into her work. Patty has a real heart for traditionally marginalized students, and she always leads in a way that can include those students. She’s also a great proponent and supporter of women in leadership. 

Kira: What’s the most important book you’ve read?

The Bible. I think it’s important to have a clear compass in life, no matter where that comes from. Another book that has impacted me is John Maxwell’s 21 Laws of Leadership. It’s about the idea that leadership is influence, and shows how important character can be in becoming an influential leader. 

Curious to see what the future of training looks like?
Kira Matthews
Community Engagement Lead
Kira leads our community outreach team working hand-in-hand with changemakers on both sides of the pond. If you want to join the next series of The Interview, or just learn more about GoodCourse, then get in touch at

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