When it comes to bringing new policies to campus, Higher Education (HE) professionals are faced with the task of bringing together academia and Student Affairs to enhance the student experience in a way that makes everyone feel included.
Sally Welch, Provost and Senior VP of Academic Affairs at Lansing Community College, sat down with Luke James, Co-Host of The Interview, to speak about the importance of creating meaningful initiatives and focusing them on what students truly need.
I started as a faculty member and was part of a grant process. My fellow faculty member and I weren't sure who should lead the grant, so we flipped a coin, and it led to me leading this huge construction project doing a lot of brand new things on campus, meeting a lot of new people. It inspired me to continue on that path to where I am today.
We are working on a couple of things with Achieving the Dream — we joined that organization as a peer network to help build equity within our institution and support students of color.
We are also bringing on a Culture of Care initiative. Everyone here has a great passion for student success, so we provide a framework using appreciative education and a culture of care to ensure we’re all on the same page in how we work with students. We rolled that out in January; it’s going really well so far. It’s an extension of the work we’re already doing, but it’s really exciting to have others join us in that process.
Michigan State is fifteen minutes from our campus — we have 10,000 students compared to their 50,000 students, so the idea was to help students have a warm handoff and soft landing at Michigan State to obtain a four-year degree.
We brought in financial aid counselors, some advising counselors, and set up workshops for interested students. This meant they got to learn about it before transferring, and we also give a tour of the campus. It’s about helping them through the process, so no one feels lost.
It takes every single office to achieve what we do. The provost piece in my title means that I oversee academic and student affairs. We work hard to ensure we collaborate at all times.
We have a Chief Diversity Officer on campus who promotes difficult conversations. We have a monthly piece called Courageous Conversations which invites the whole campus to engage in those conversations. This is about creating a safe space for students to say what they need to say. We also have a dedicated place on campus for those conversations.
This is about creating a safe space for students to say what they need to say. We also have a dedicated place on campus for those conversations.
We were fortunate enough to have a Chief Diversity Officer, Tonya Bailey, who had that drive to get students involved and never had any issues with engaging student voices. She has since left the institution, so now it’s about carrying on what she created. We have to build trust with the students, so they feel it’s safe to come and talk.
A big part of that comes from our president, Steve Robinson. He simply has a zero-tolerance policy on any kind of behavior like that. We also do a lot of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) training within the institution, which empowers administrators to speak up and recognize dangerous behavior. But it begins at the top, and having a president who will not stand for having it on campus is huge.
Most of it is on the employee side right now, both online and in person. We've had some great training sessions and some excellent speakers as well. One we held recently was about student bandwidth and acknowledging that different circumstances may not allow students to come to class on a particular day, and learning how to deal with that. We also have specific DEI training and development days for faculty.
With the work we do with Achieving the Dream, one thing we emphasize is the student voice and ensuring that we design things with them in mind or alongside them. We are currently trying to build that into what we do — anything we roll out should be something students really want or need. We are conscious that we aren’t doing enough, while always aspiring to do more.
You have to be able to adapt to any changes that are coming. You must also prepare to be a change agent because HE needs to be disrupted and changed; we must find a new way to go forward.
Dr Karen Stout from Achieving the Dream is someone I respect a lot in terms of the messaging she puts out there. I also really admire our president — he brings such a different energy to the campus and does so with grace and kindness.
Fish! by Steve Lundin is a great book about how to deal with conflict in the workplace and dealing with toxic environments. I also really liked No Ego by Cy Wakeman, which I came across on her podcast; it’s about drama in the workplace and how to get rid of it.