Illinois State's Department of Student Affairs hosted open forums where students had the opportunity to directly speak to interviewees for the position of assistant vice president/dean of student affairs. The first candidate was Dr. Gina Lee-Olukoya, the director of the Office of Civic Life at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Illinois State University is looking to fill an opening for the assistant vice president/dean of students position.

In order to familiarize the campus community with candidates for the position, the Department of Student Affairs hosted open forums where students had the opportunity to directly speak to interviewees.

The first of two candidates to participate in these forums was Dr. Gina Lee-Olukoya.

Lee-Olukoya earned a bachelor’s in political science from Ball State University, a master’s degree in education from the University of South Carolina and a doctoral degree in philosophy from ISU.

From 1998 to 2005, Lee-Olukoya served as the assistant director for the Office of Student Life at ISU. Lee-Olukoya currently serves as the director for the Office of Civic Life at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

During the forum, a group of about 10 students voiced questions and concerns to Lee-Olukoya.

Senior journalism and political science major and Interfraternity Council president Ben Mayo asked Lee-Olukoya about her advising style, especially as it relates to organizations on campus.

“I have a core principle, and that core principle is that students need to chart their way,” Lee-Olukoya said. “I’m able to provide a pathway – these are some good ideas that you might want to employ, but here’s how you can find your own agency, because that’s my role.”

Jeff Walsh, a first generation college student, graduate student and veteran, asked what Lee-Olukoya’s plan is for fostering community for non-traditional students and what is available to them in turns of being involved on campus.

In response, Lee-Olukoya demonstrated a commitment to developing spaces that address the needs of ISU’s diverse student body.

“I think, fundamentally, we have to rethink how we do student life, and ensure that when we talk about student life, that we’re also talking about all of the variations of our students,” Lee-Olukoya said. “No matter where you are in the age range, belonging is essential."

First-year graduate student Megan Ramos wanted to know what Lee-Olukoya intends to do to promote the well-being of historically marginalized students.

Lee-Olukoya’s response highlighted how being a Black woman in predominantly white spaces has shaped her personal and professional identity, stressing the importance of seizing every opportunity for positive change.

“It’s really about the advocacy,” Lee-Olukoya said. “No institution is perfect. There will be bad moments along the way, but what will we do with that moment to help create the change in the end that we want to see?”

At the end of the forum, Lee-Olukoya asked students about their past experience with the Dean of Students Office and what they would want from the dean of students to improve their experience at ISU.

“I would expect [the dean of students] to be … flexible, and not just doing their job’s duties, but also being empathetic,” senior marketing and graphic design major Kali Latti said. “To show that you care, and to show that you’re listening to students … that you’ll do whatever you can to make sure the student population feels heard.”

ISABEL BRAICO is a News and Features Reporter for The Vidette. Braico can be contacted at icbraic@ilstu.edu. Follow Braico on Twitter at @IsabelBraico  

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