Shawn DeVeau recently stepped down from his position as the Associate Dean of Students to take on the role of Interim Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs. The Mass Media talked with him about his new role, his former position, and how he feels about the University.

Question: For new students or for those who aren’t familiar with your role as Interim Vice Chancellor for student affairs, what does your position entail?

Answer: It entails a lot of things. I don’t do a lot of the heavy work; I help my colleagues do the heavy work in all the departments that report to the Vice Chancellor's office. So, anything in Student Affairs, the Dean of Students office, Multicultural Affairs, OSLCE or Student Involvement reports to the Vice Chancellor’s office. It is the Vice Chancellor’s role to provide leadership for the offices, so they have focus and tie back to our mission, which is to help students. One of my roles as well is to bring folks together to work on projects that might be bigger than just one of those particular offices. I also help to get them to work together, because sometimes people are so busy that they may not even know that U-ACCESS is doing this, or Student Involvement is doing that, or Housing is doing another thing. When I can get them together to connect on things, it can provide broader services to folks, which is a great thing as well. And then I would say that ultimately one of my biggest roles is that I work with the other Vice Chancellors, whether it’s Human Resources or Administration Finance or the Chancellor’s office itself in bigger issues that come up so I can help to get things addressed. 

Q.: You left your position as the Associate Dean of Students and Deputy Title IX Coordinator to fulfill this one. Why do you think this position will be better suited for you?

A.: One of the things that I bring to the role as the Interim is that I worked for a long time at Merrimack College and wrapped up as Dean of Students there in 2011. I worked there for 14 and a half years, so as I went my own way, I was looking for an opportunity to prove to another institution that I could transition into their place. So, I said "well, I knew people who did interim work, I’ll do this for a little while," and that way I'll be able to show "look, I went to a new place, I did something different, I can come to your place and do something different. too.” I ended up doing it for eight years. I did 13 different contracts; I had worked everything from a part-time Academic Advisor all the way to being Vice President Interim of Academic Faculty and Student Affairs at University of Texas Health Science Center... and I enjoyed it. So, what I bring to the role is an understanding of what it means to be an interim. There are certain things that I need to keep moving forward, but there’s also things that I will likely get to a certain point and then leave for whoever the permanent is. Because in reality, the permanent person needs to have the opportunity to put their vision onto some projects. Whoever is picking up the role for five or six years will know, "okay this is going the right way," versus starting in a direction and then someone coming in and saying, “oh, well this isn’t the way I would have done it.” So, my experience there is really helpful. That is not to say I don't want the role permanently, but I think that is one of the reasons they asked me to take on the role in this interim manner, because I did have that experience and I really enjoy it. One of the things I think is really important for folks to understand—and they don’t always when they're looking at an empty position—is if you leave a job open for let's say a year (sometimes for a leadership job like this it may take a year to do a good search), and even if you started searching in September and you wrapped up and made an offer in December, a senior leader may say, “I have to finish up the academic year at the previous place so I’ll see you in June.” Well, that’s a quarter of a student’s experience when you think about it. If you’re only here for four years, do we really want 25 percent of that experience to be just empty? No. I’d like to think I’ve been successful at bringing leadership and keeping an organization going full speed, so that it’s providing the best service possible to students with the best programs and opportunities. 

Q.: What are you most excited about to start or get done in your new role?

A.: I’m looking forward to getting students back on campus. One of the things that I started—and then gave over to the Dean of Students Office but I'm still supporting—is the creation of a goal for the first four to six weeks (or maybe longer) to have Welcome Ambassadors on campus. When you think about it, we’ve had two years’ worth of folks who have never been to campus—and if you’re a junior, you only spent a semester and a half. So, they’re going to be doing things like wayfinding, especially since there’s a big hole in the middle of the campus from construction. We’ll get that filled in during the course of the year, but it will be helpful to have some wayfinding. We will also have some friendly reminders about safety, masks, and handing out hand sanitizer. And I think it's a different model than what we’ve done, so I would like to see us get some more opportunities like that for students. I know that we have some new team members, like the Associate Dean of Housing and Residential, the Associate Director, Community Director, and Assistant Dean, so helping everyone get tied in with us. Also helping to support U-ACCESS as they built out some newer positions, so I want to make sure they get the support they need to do the great job I know they will do. Lastly, one of the things that’s coming up that we’re doing work on is using some budget money to hire an architect to look at the third floor of the Campus Center and half of the second floor where there is student organization space. That will be a big project to get done, but I think given everything else that's going on and given all the construction that's going on, I think we should just push it ahead and get this done too so we will have a new space. We all will be back and understand what we need to do and then this space will be new and done and it will kind of bring it all together all at once. There's a lot going on, but I think it will be good. 

Q.: You prioritize leading an anti-racist and health-promoting institution, how do you think these intersect and relate to one another?

A.: When I think of those two ideals, I really think about ways in which we don’t even think about how our policies, procedures, or simple things like our forms, work (from an anti-racist point of view). As I've listened to Dr. Ibrim X. Kennedy from BU, one of the things that I think he's really thoughtful about is how he presents the topic. I heard one of his talks where he said, “it’s not enough to be anti-racist” and he compared it to the concept of how it’s not enough to say, “I’m not going to bully someone,” it’s more about saying “I’m going to step in when I see bullying occurring, or I see something occurring.” So, for us as administrators, we need to think about what it means to be anti-racist from a perspective of how we present things. For example, we now do a lot of Zoom work. In an anti-racist world, that can mean a lot of different things and it can mean a lack of resources. Does a student have good access to the internet or a computer? Thinking about how we present things and how we create our policies is important. When I worked in the Dean of Students office, I was fond of saying to someone, "you need to get that answer to Financial Aid, go get this person.” That’s one way to do that; I've given you the information. The way I used to think about it is that I’m empowering you to make the move yourself, and you should be empowered to do that. But, if I took the extra step and said I'm going to connect you in this email so that you have the connection, I've now made that little extra move and then empowered you with the information and created the direct access which I think is one of the biggest things that racism creates—a lack of access. Because we deny access to certain things, we deny a certain peace. When we look at things through an anti-racist lens, it’s a matter of coming up with ideas like looking at our student conduct process and making sure we are not approaching things from a police state aspect, but we’re approaching things from more of a community standard aspect. Where we have these expectations as a community, what those include, and how we make sure everyone rises up to meet that. Similarly on the health-promoting side, I think what we need to focus on is how a lack of access can impact our students from a perspective of just being able to attend class or participate in class. Thinking about the student who runs from class to a job, to taking care of family and doesn't get the opportunity to just take care of themselves. Certainly, I would never tell someone to quit their job, that’s not possible for most of us.  But how do we help them and give them the resources and the tools when they have a moment to make a good choice about a meal they’re eating? Or a good choice about taking 15 minutes to take a walk for a mental break? Health promotion can take on so many different things, and I think a lot of times it gets pigeonholed on a college campus as alcohol and other drug education. While that is very important, it is so much more than that and I think we can work on those kinds of things and help our students be more successful in their academics. It all fits together, if you’re not feeling good or healthy, if you’re not able to be in the moment with a faculty member or in a class, then you’re not going to do well and that’s going to lead to poor academics and so on. It begins a bit of a spiral, so when we can break those spirals, that’s what we need to do. 

Q.: What’s something you want the student body to know about you?

A.: One thing is that I’m willing to share my email address. If you have a question and you think I can help, email me and I am happy to respond. As I said, I may not have the answer, but I will make that connection for you. Another thing I will share is a concept I heard over the summer. Like many people, I was watching a Netflix series, and it was about chefs. He was talking about how he lived on the farm and then became a chef and put two and two together and he had a basic understanding of farm and table. Then he began to realize how important farm and table is, and how you teach people about what they’re eating and different things and what they should be eating, and it helps out the farmer and vice versa. As he was talking with his kitchen and serving staff, he told everyone, “Go out and do some good today.” I loved that phrase. Sometimes people can say “go change the world!” which can be really overwhelming, whereas I could say to you, “do some good today.” If you did a little good today, how different would the person’s day be that you did some good for? If they (hopefully) pay it forward, how much different and better would our community be? Not to say we have a bad community, but it can always get a little better.

Q.: Diving in a little deeper to an earlier question, how do you plan to make the transition back onto campus smoother, particularly for sophomores who have never been onto campus before?

A.: We’ve set up certain things. We put the shuttle back with new guidelines for ridership, we brought parking back, we have the mask mandate, etc. But what we’re going to need to do is be very aware and check in regularly, whether it is formally or informally, to figure out if things are actually working. We have different ways for classes to be run. There are in person classes, online classes, and Beacon flex classes—which are both in person and online. One of the goals we had with that is trying to see if we have enough space for all our students to come to campus and do some classes online, while physically being present on campus. If you have a mix of online and in person classes and they’re all scheduled close together, you will have to do computer work on campus. We don’t know if we have enough space yet for this, but that’s one of the things we’re going to have to see. We want to check in regularly on things like this to see if they are working. Another thing we’re trying out is our pathways. During construction a lot has changed on campus, and we must see how it goes with the students. We often get suggestions from students, and we implement a change and then never loop back to it, so other students may not know they also can do that. When we can build that feedback to function well, it creates the opportunity to let students know they can have a voice and we will make a change. 

Q.: What is your favorite thing about UMB?

A.: It’s got to be the students. I am amazed every day when I get to talk with students and hear about where they come from; sometimes it’s what they’ve overcome, sometimes it’s what work they’re doing. I think we forget that we’re a major research university, which doesn’t always have to be done in a lab, so I’ve heard about projects that some of our PhD students are working on and it’s incredible. I think one of the great things about being in Boston is the internships it can provide for students. It's very interesting to hear where students work and what they do. People come from so many different backgrounds. We have veterans, front line workers, first gen students all coming together, and it is a great place to work. The impact that we get to have on students and the hurdles that we can help a student get over, it is very enriching to me and my colleagues. 

Q.: If you could change one thing about the University, what would it be?

A.: We didn’t realize one of the benefits of going remote was that we reconsidered some of our bureaucracy. There were offices that had paper forms where students had to go in and fill in the form to submit it. During the pandemic, we obviously couldn’t do that, so it wasn’t a matter of “I’ll get to it when I get to it,” it became “I gotta get to this now.” I’m hoping for that kind of energy around looking at our bureaucracy. Geographically, we aren’t that big of a campus, but bureaucracy wise we are an old-fashioned university, and we embrace our paperwork and regulations and rules. I think we need to do a bit of a breakup on that. To do the simple things like posting forms online, getting things posted onto the web, giving students more access to stuff is a really good beginning. The other thing I think we can do a better job at is getting more data on aspects of our roles. With this, we can learn about the impact we have on students and give them a better experience. 

Q.: What was something you did in your previous position that you are most proud of?

A.: Although we are a big University and despite what I said in the last question, we still have a very personal relationship driven institution. One of the things that I always do in my job is meet people and find out how they do their jobs and make connections that way. I would say I’m proud of that the most, because those connections help me to get my job done a little faster.

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