Laura Chandler, an assistant professor of history at South Dakota State University, was hired as director of the Center for Diversity & Community following a three-part student panel April 2, 3 and 5.
The Volante spoke with Chandler about her vision for the CDC, her first impressions of USD and her process of hiring a new coordinator.
Cheyenne Alexis: What interested you about the CDC director position?
Laura Chandler: I think it really seemed like a unique opportunity to mentor students and help them continue to build their leadership skills. And also to just help educate around the campus, community and the region at-large about the lived experiences of traditionally marginalized groups, which is really my passion. And I thought that, you know, being that the Center is very new… there’s a lot of room for me and the students to really make this Center whatever we want it to be, and that’s really exciting.
CA: What was your reaction when you were offered the position?
LC: I was super excited. I was really, really happy because I really wanted this position. I was excited about working in Vermillion, I was excited about being at USD — (because) it’s a liberal arts school — I was excited to take the things that I’ve learned here in region and in the state of South Dakota and bring it to a new institution.
CA: What were your thoughts on the student panels and getting to know them before you were hired?
LC: The panels were fantastic. I think it was excellent for the university to include that as part of the interview process, especially for a position where there’s so much engagement with students that it really should be part of the interview process. In terms of being able to speak with the students, it was fast-paced, it was full of content, they got a lot of questions. It was great for me to be able to hear from them, you know, really what they want the Center to be, what they need from the Center director and really, the things that they love the most about their college experience at USD. It was really enlightening for me and educational for me and they asked really great questions so I think they learned a lot about me as well and how I will operate as director.
CA: What are some changes you hope to bring to the CDC?
LC: One of the things that I heard from students and speaking with them is that they really like how much they’ve been able to lead a number of the events and the initiatives that have occurred in the center in the last year. And it came up several times with many students, so that seems to be something they want to see continue. That will be one of the main things I want to do as director. I would really like to see students being very engaged with the community surrounding the university, Sioux Falls — I think there’s a lot to do here in the region in terms of educating communities and also giving students leadership opportunities outside of the university. I’ll be looking for a number of opportunities for students to engage in that kind of look.
CA: When did you start gaining an interest for diversity training and education?
LC: It’s the work that I do. I’m a scholar of African-American history, I specialize in marginalized knowledge. Most of my educational experience has been at traditionally white institutions, so diversity and inclusion has always been an incredibly important issue for me. And I know how important it is as a student perspective and also as a faculty member and just how it improves the campus community. That’s something I’ve seen in my entire career as a professor, as a graduate student and an undergraduate student. I love the people that it brings me into contact with — I find that people who are committed to diversity and inclusiveness are really engaged and really enthusiastic and optimistic and have a desire to make their campus the best that it can be. I find it to be really fulfilling and exciting work.
CA: Overall, what are you looking forward to when you start at USD in June?
LC: I’m looking forward to working with the students and speaking with them. I see the first few weeks as an opportunity to just have a number of conversations and to build relationships. I can’t wait to hear more from them and what they love about being students at USD and just really the things they want to do for the center.
CA: Have you given any thoughts to hiring a coordinator?
LC: I think in terms of making any final decisions, I won’t have anything final until I’m on campus and I’ve had some time to be there a little bit. Certainly, there are types of qualities that I’m looking for: someone who’s really organized and engaged and high-energy and someone who will really focus on building good relationships with the students. Those are the things that are really important to me.
CA: Do you have anything else to add?
LC: I’m excited to be a Coyote.