‘We Know That All Schools and Pathways Are Not Created Equal in Our Country’

Since childhood, I’ve been drawn to leadership roles and public service. My first job after college was as a foreign service officer and diplomat, serving in China, South Africa, and Washington, D.C. Representing my country is one of my first loves.

When I started, I was passionate about our mission to rebuild communities and strengthen government structures. But after 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, our stance shifted, and we became focused on security. In 2005, I left because that approach didn’t align with my reasons for doing that work, and started a job at Stanford, my undergraduate alma mater, first as an admissions officer, and eventually as assistant dean. Then I led enrollment management efforts at the University of Missouri and undergraduate education efforts at the University of Kansas.

My work has always been founded in the principles of access, opportunity, and inclusivity. In the admissions world, some people say: “Students who qualify will apply and get in, and we let the chips fall where they may.” But we know that all schools and pathways are not created equal in our country.

We can’t say: “Let’s wait and see who materializes.” We have to be active participants in the process. We have to send the message that a university is an inclusive place. We have to recruit intentionally. We have to ensure that we connect with educational entities that are working with diverse populations. We can’t just have lasting relationships with the typical feeder high schools. We have to build those relationships with a range of schools and community organizations. And we have to consider the context of a student’s situation, the context of their journey, not just the numbers. We need to decide whom to admit based on the kind of class we want to craft. We need to value different viewpoints and backgrounds.

When the college admissions scandal broke in 2019, it challenged those of us in higher education to look closely at our processes. We had to make sure they were equitable and weren’t structured in ways that made such things to happen. We had to ask: How do we put safeguards in? How do we protect every student? How do we fortify our policies to be part of the solution, not the problem?

Done right, the outcome is profound and far-reaching. I look at Facebook now and see students I admitted and mentored sitting on city councils, serving as mayor, running for Congress. Others are leading in corporate or medical fields, or in the entertainment industry. These are my undergrads!

Is it a heavy burden to push for that change? Depends on the day. I am a woman of color from the Midwest, yes. But I also hold degrees from Stanford, Princeton, and the University of Pennsylvania. I have a doctorate. That opens doors and allows me to make certain shifts and have certain conversations that other people are not always allowed to engage in. I’ve made choices to be in certain types of environments where I knew I could do this type of work. I have that gravitas that some people look for. So I recognize my positionality and my related responsibilities, and I know that everyone doesn’t have the choices I had.

But everyone can lead in their own space. I still teach, and when the Black Lives Matter protests began, I said to my students, some of you will be on that front line someday. Others might be in a boardroom, challenging their organization, asking what its board looks like, what are its HR policies, and hiring policies? For those in public service, how will you support the people that you are called to serve?

I’ve always believed that I could have an impact. Everything I do is informed by all of my various identities. I’m a proud Black woman and a mother to a son who is on the autism spectrum. I’ve been a diplomat. I speak and have been trained in multiple languages. I’ve lived all over the world. I’ve been in federal and state and higher education. With every decision I make, I use this rich perspective. And in every role, I push for access, opportunity, and inclusivity.

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