The Interview USA
New York University
Associate Vice President and Dean of Students

Rafael Rodriguez

For many Higher Education (HE) professionals, the drive to emphasize the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) on campus comes from their own experiences as undergraduate students. 

For Rafael Rodriguez, Associate Vice President and Dean of Students at New York University (NYU), attending a small college and receiving quality support from academics was a crucial point in his professional journey.

GoodCourse Universities Lead Kitty Hadaway asks Rafael how his career in HE has evolved over the years at NYU, and some of the initiatives that he is proudest of.

Rafael's Journey

Kitty: Can you share a little about what brought you to the field of student affairs and your current role?

In my current role as Associate Vice President and Dean of Students, I help to enable all students to participate in an engaging, healthy, and active learning environment during their time here at NYU. 

I came to student affairs work because of my own experiences as an undergraduate student. I went to the University of Vermont, a very small institution where I received a lot of high-quality support and mentorship from academics. I took advantage of opportunities that ended up transforming my life, so I wanted to be able to provide that to other young people. 

Kitty: Can you describe how you’re building a campus inclusive of all NYU students?

Much of my work is centered on improving the structure of our university community and helping students build relationships with each other, mainly through the teaching of restorative practices. We’re training staff in these techniques to be able to mediate conflicts more sensitively.

Kitty: Does that restorative practice training also help build allyship between students at NYU?

Yes, definitely. It provides a foundation for our community to come together. It allows for new voices to be heard, and for experiences to be shared.  Where there otherwise might not have been the opportunity to do so. 

Kitty: How do you engage students in this and other initiatives?

On the whole, NYU students are very engaged with the work we’re doing, and that was something I noticed very quickly when I started in my role. We try to boost engagement by setting up as many avenues for staff and students to share their views with us as possible. We also invest heavily in showing students all of the opportunities available to them and helping them access key openings, regardless of their background.

Kitty: How has the shift to digital-first teaching and support throughout the pandemic affected students? What are your priorities now?

This year is the first academic year in which we’ll see the full impact of the “new normal” and of the hybrid provision we — like most other HE institutions — now offer on the other side of the pandemic. Getting this right and managing the balance between online and face-to-face provisions is a focus for us.

We want to hang onto much of what we brought in to deliver to our students during lockdowns. At the same time, students do need the chance to connect in person with peers and academics. 

Online teaching and services are often much more accessible, so we want to hang onto much of what we brought in to deliver to our students during lockdowns. At the same time, students do need the chance to connect in person with peers and academics.

Mental health has increased in visibility as a problem we need to address. Still, our student body is very resilient, and NYU students have a considerable capacity to adapt and be flexible. 

Three Quickfire Questions

Kitty: What advice would you give to anyone hoping to make a career in the Higher Education space now?

Make sure that you understand how different it is to be a HE professional compared to being a student at a university, and be prepared for your perspectives and outlook to change accordingly. 

It’s also crucial to be flexible and open to learning new things all the time. This sector is about people and for people, so be willing to learn from everyone you meet. 

Kitty: Who has inspired you the most in your career journey?

My mother, for her resilience and adaptability. She came to the US from Puerto Rico at seventeen, not knowing any English or having any support system, and has done a fantastic job of making a life here for herself and her family. 

Kitty: Is there a book you would recommend to anyone in the HE space?

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. It’s a classic but such an important read — it made me want to become a lawyer, and even though that’s no longer my aspiration, it has definitely sparked my drive to create change and improve things. 

Curious to see what the future of training looks like?
Kitty Hadaway
Universities Lead
Kitty is passionate about using technology to create safer and more inclusive campuses, and is an expert on student engagement and delivering training at scale. Get in touch at to learn more.

The future of training is here, are you ready for it?

Tired of chasing your learners to complete dull training? Let's speak today👇
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.