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Q&A with the New Vice President for Minority Affairs & Diversity Rickey Hall

Source: UW Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity Website

Headshot of Rickey HallAfter being appointed to the position by President Ana Mari Cauce and Provost Jerry Baldasty in May, Rickey Hall begins his tenure as the eighth vice president for the UW Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity (OMA&D) today. Hall most recently served as the inaugural vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and brings over 20 years of experience in higher education to Seattle. He recently took some time to answer a few questions about what inspires his work to advance diversity, equity and inclusion, what attracted him to the UW and what his first priorities will be in the role.     

Q: Congratulations on being named vice president for minority affairs & diversity and welcome to the UW! You have a long career working to advance equity and inclusion in higher education. What initially inspired you to pursue this career path?

A: My high school principal saw something in me that I did not see in myself. He invested in me by exposing me to a number of opportunities. My admiration for my high school principal led to my interest in administration. Entering college I wanted to become a high school principal. Some positive and negative experiences on campus, especially a couple of negative racial experiences, led me to get really engaged. That engagement put me in contact with staff of color who assisted me when I struggled academically, socially and financially. It would have been incredibly difficult for me to persist had it not been for those staff members. Toward the end of my undergraduate career, I reflected on my experiences, including the staff of color who contributed to my success. At that point I decided I wanted to be an administrator at the college level. I wanted to help push the doors open wider for students of color and wanted to ensure that once they were on campus they had the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Q: What about the University of Washington and the Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity attracted you to the position?

A: The position at the University of Washington was one that I long coveted. I became familiar with the great work the Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity was doing when I was an assistant vice president in the Office for Equity and Diversity at the University of Minnesota. I came out to visit and learn more about what OMA&D was doing. I later brought staff out to observe the work of the Instructional Center and to learn what could be incorporated into academic support work with underrepresented students at the University of Minnesota. In 2008, I came out for the 40th anniversary of OMA&D. After learning about the rich legacy of the department and knowing the great work that was being done, I decided that if I ever had the opportunity to pursue the vice presidential role I would.

I’m attracted to UW because it is one of the preeminent institutions in the country, has a broad understanding of diversity, and has a racially diverse student body.

I’m also attracted to the position because the UW is a leader in equity, diversity and inclusion.  I’m looking forward to working with outstanding students, faculty, staff, alumni and external communities to continue to advance the work.

Q: A few weeks ago, President Cauce and Provost Baldasty shared their thoughts on the tragic events in Orlando and Dallas and the deaths of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota. They urged us, the UW community, to “stand together for justice.” Undoubtedly, these are difficult times. How have these events and the current national climate around race & equity impacted your thoughts on leadership and stepping into this particular role?

A: Given recent incidents and those occurring in the past few years, it is my belief that offices like OMA&D are more important than ever. As an institution we are not walled off from larger societal issues. The pain, frustration and tensions we see in communities spill over to campus. Students, faculty and staff are from these communities. As these issues come to campus it is important that OMA&D collaborate with academic and administrative units to provide support to those experiencing grief and trauma, to create spaces for dialogue or to create opportunities just to be in community. We have to help all university constituents understand that we each have a responsibility for addressing issues of racism and other injustices on and off campus. That starts with educating within our individual communities and across communities.

And while it is important to be aware of tragedies and injustices taking place in the world, it can be exhausting and overwhelming. We as OMA&D staff must also show leadership by encouraging students and others to practice self-care. Even during these extremely challenging times it is important to create space for rest, healing and joy. People need to be able to heal and reenergize so that they can better engage with the issues and provide better support for individuals and communities.

Q: OMA&D has a longstanding mission to increase college access for and support the academic success of students from underrepresented minority, first-generation and low-income backgrounds. What will be some of your first priorities in this role?

A: As I transition into the role my initial priorities will be getting to know students and OMA&D staff, as well as acquiring a good working knowledge of all the OMA&D programs and services. Learning the culture of the three campuses by engaging with senior leadership, faculty and staff will also be important, as will engaging with our diverse external communities.

Q: What aspects of the job are you most excited about? 

A: I am most excited about the opportunity to engage with outstanding students. I’m excited about the opportunity to engage with Tribal Nations and other diverse external communities. I’m also excited about the opportunity to work with and learn from outstanding faculty and staff on all of our campuses.

Q: What are you looking forward to most about living in Seattle?

A: I am excited to experience the Seattle food scene, especially the fresh seafood. I am also interested in exploring the different neighborhoods, and taking in the scenery, especially the beautiful views of the Cascades and Mount Rainier. Most importantly, I am looking forward to the diversity.