By Victoria Maneske
On Sept. 14, CI’s Vice President for Student Affairs, Dr. Richard Yao, sent out a message saying that he is developing a new Vice President for Student Affairs Student Advisory Board. This decision was influenced by student feedback and made in collaboration with the Dean of Students and in consultation with Student Government leaders.
The purpose of this board is to acquire more knowledge of student opinions, concerns and recommendations that reflect upon the many different aspects of student interest and campus experience. One main goal is to gather a group of students that represent the diversity of CI in various capacities and address their needs head-on by implementing a direct line of communication to campus leadership.
“The real purpose is to make sure that I’m hearing … from students about concerns, emergent issues … and how I can best support our students as it relates to their well-being, their wellness, their development but most importantly their success,” Yao said. “I want to see our students graduate… to me, that’s the bottom line: what can we do better?”
Last year, Yao took a deep dive in researching more into the data and literature of student affairs, specifically in how it relates to students who are black, indigenous and people of color. Upon seeing that those students were struggling by feeling marginalized and discriminated against, he took action within his role at CI.
“After the winter break, and this was right before COVID hit too, I reached out to a lot of our identity-based student clubs … to invite them to have a meeting with their leadership so that I can hear directly from them. And I met with a handful, and their feedback was consistent to what I was seeing in the literature and that was an eye-opener to me … that’s when I knew, okay, I need to hear directly from students,” Yao explained.
Yao wants to use his position to address and resolve these issues among CI’s campus, and this board is one gateway to doing so. This group will be comprised of undergraduate and graduate students that represent the diversity of CI’s campus, and members will be appointed by the Vice President of Student Affairs. According to the information page, “Priority will be given to students who demonstrate their ability to represent multiple identities, perspectives, life experiences, and roles at the University.”
Emily Quiñonez, a junior with a double major in Chicanx studies and political science and the Student Government vice president, said, “I’m very excited about this advisory board. The intention of this advisory board is very genuine being that we want it to be student-centered to really understand what our students are experiencing, but also how can we come together to really solve these issues in a way that will truly help/benefit our students.”
Being a clinical psychiatrist by trade and knowing the significance of group sizes, Yao is looking for a productive member size that is not too small but also not too big. He does not want to lack input but also does not want to sacrifice efficiency either. The optimal group size would be around 10 to 12 people, but depending on if a plethora of students are passionate to be a part of it, he is not opposed to expanding it.
Currently, the board is still in the process of selecting students. More than 50 students have shown interest in the board, and Yao is working with the Dean of Students, Toni DeBoni, and Student Government officials, such as Quiñonez, in interviewing their candidates.
Not all applicants may be placed on the board, but Yao had asked them previously if they would be willing to be on other campus-wide committees that need student representation if they are not chosen. Many of them agreed to consider it, so there are more opportunities for these applicants to acquire important leadership roles on campus. Yao said, “We’re going to reach out to them directly and say, ‘listen, you know, while you weren’t necessarily chosen for this board, here’s a list of all the other important student committees across campus where we need leadership and student representation.’”
Regarding the plans of the board, it will meet regularly—at least once a month—with the Dean of Students, Yao and other University leaders to discuss and implement new initiatives that can counteract issues happening within the campus community. It is meant to improve the quality of student life and promote student success through active problem-solving and engagement. The core purpose is to be driven by solutions-focused discussions.
According to Yao, the structure of this board will first be in developing the conceptual part of campus improvement with dialogue, accumulating the long-term steps of where the campus and community are now and where they want it to be. After that, it moves into concrete action steps, spreading through campus leadership across the divisions. As for implementation, Yao said, “That’s my role as vice president, the role of my leadership team, and the role of our staff and faculty across the campus. And that’s where we have to engage, and not just to student affairs, but campus leadership across divisions.”
As for the role of Student Government, Quiñonez said, “Moving forward two Student Government members will sit on this board along with the students that have been chosen. The Student Government will serve just as any other student on this board by giving our feedback, concerns and overall creating solutions to issues that we see present for our students.”
The beginning task is to plan on creating forums for the 2020-2021 academic year, which is in response to student feedback requesting for more outlets for direct communication with campus leadership.
“If there’s one thing I heard, loud and clear, from the Shades of CI (Instagram account) is that students don’t feel like they have a voice,” Yao said. “That they don’t have a direct channel of communication to administration, particularly the Vice President of Student Affairs … it’s my responsibility, as Vice President of Student Affairs, to ensure that students have a forum.”
Quiñonez also added her input on the forums as well. “We want to hold a new forum that is student-centered because of the issues that were voiced in regards to the last forum that was held, we want to be intentional about listening to students’ concerns,” she explained.
Yao sees that this board will come with challenges as it requires challenging topics and discussions. The solutions would operate under the legal, ethical and theoretical framework of our public institution. He wants to honor the process of creating transformational, systemic changes in order to do the work in healthy and adaptive ways, and he looks forward to celebrating even the small victories.
“It’s not easy work … it takes shared experiences to build those relationships, to make things happen. Those shared experiences evolve in adversity and problem solving and overcoming that,” said Yao. “When we’re talking about things so close to our students, about intersectionality, about their identities, about discrimination, about safety … these are really … close topics to students’ hearts and their well-being … to me it further emphasizes the nature of that process and how we have to navigate it in real healthy and adaptive ways.”
The Vice President for Student Affairs Student Advisory Board was brought forward in response to student needs, and it will be utilized to enhance student wellness and lifestyle at CI by giving a voice to the underrepresented and actively pursuing solutions and inclusivity for the campus community.