In working to combat operational challenges imposed by the pandemic, college campuses are doubling down on efforts to ensure their programs promote a culture of inclusion to meet the needs of underserved students.
NASFAA's Diversity Leadership Program (DLP) seeks to bring this conversation into the realm of financial aid leadership. Unveiled in 2018, the program provides individuals from identified underrepresented groups in the association community with support, access, and opportunities for leadership.
To get a better idea of how issues involving diversity manifest in the world of higher education and financial aid, we spoke with NASFAA's newly appointed Diversity Officer Derek Kindle, vice provost for enrollment management at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, about his experiences and what he believes are the biggest struggles facing aid administrators from minoritized backgrounds today.
TN: Could you tell us a little bit about your background in financial aid?
DK: I got my start in financial aid over 20 years ago and like many other people, I sort of came about working in a university setting by first being a student employee at my alma mater, and then I moved into the financial aid office shortly after I had graduated from college.
I came to the financial aid office in a time when most of the people who were serving in the office have been there for decades, which was a blessing in many ways. It gave me the opportunity to learn, lots of sage wisdom and counsel about the work world in general, but also life. After that I just stuck around financial aid since then. Currently, I'm not directly in financial aid — I am the vice provost for enrollment at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
TN: What are your main goals as NASFAA's Diversity Officer?
DK: The main goal for us this year is to learn to share and to create a collaborative space that will help the membership grow in how it approaches the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work from the individual level, to the campus level, the state association level, and to the regional associations. I believe we have a lot of great things that are going on.
The first thing we want to do is to make sure people understand clearly what's going on in terms of DEI efforts at the state and regional associations, and to sort of practice-share. The other part is really setting an agenda together with the membership to say, 'Where is it that we think as professionals we need to lean in most, and how can NASFAA be of support to that?' Whether it's as we operate for professionals or for the populations we serve in our students.
TN: Why were you interested in serving as NASFAA's Diversity Officer?
DK: Being asked by colleagues who respect and value what each of us brings to the table makes a really big difference. I was already impressed with the work that my predecessors have done — whether it's Scott, Craig or Jim Brooks, from years ago — and being able to sit at the table and understand more about what NASFAA is doing. The membership of the diversity officer within the voting membership of the board is an important one, and so I was sold on the idea that NASFAA has a true commitment to this work, and that this is really the opportunity to set some groundwork for those who will come after me.
TN: Why is diversity important to higher education and the financial aid profession?
DK: Higher education is a place that we all should be familiar with as an ecosystem of innovation. Whether we're institutions that do a lot of research, or institutions that are dedicated to teaching, what we all are dedicated to is building up a generation of people who will lead us into the future. To do so, we really have to be incredibly sensitive and attuned to the many different, diverse perspectives, and lived experiences of the students we serve. Without that, we simply cannot do the best we need to do.
I think we're at a critical nexus of sometimes being a barrier to a pathway for a student. Our understanding of the many different lived experiences of our students is critical in clearing a pathway for them to receive the education we hoped to provide at our institutions.
TN: What unique struggles do underrepresented workers in our profession face?
DK: Whether we think about diversity as it applies to marginalized identities — with race and ethnicity being two of the bigger ones at the forefront — there are also some equity gaps that we have when it comes to other forms of diversity. It could be in some places gender diversity, or gender identity and expression. It could be areas of neurodiversity, which I don't think we've touched on much. And then we need to think about ways in which we're providing atmospheres and workspaces for those who are differently abled.
Again, I would focus a lot on the talent that each of those lived experiences brings to the workspace, into the profession, and our need to be able to provide an inclusive environment for those people.
TN: How can NASFAA's Diversity Leadership Program help frame a future of inclusion in higher education?
DK: The first is that it's a leadership program and so the people who are in that program are, and will continue to be, leaders in our profession. Their ability to learn and grow alongside each other in this cohort fashion is something that we believe will help create an influential track from where they sit and at a state, regional, and national level within the profession.
We're excited about our DLP members. I know there's lots of conversation about how many, even from the last cohort, are now on the board or who may be into the future. So I think the DLP is creating not only leaders in themselves, but creating people who now know what an inclusive environment has brought to them, and how it can be improved and done from where they sit as leaders. They will be bringing in the next generation of diverse leaders and diverse people into the field.
TN: What do you think institutions of higher education need to do in the wake of COVID-19 to foster a culture of inclusion?
DK: It's going to sound overly simplistic, but they need to listen.
I think sometimes we respond too reactively, or we prepare where we already are, grounded in some ways with how we've come up in the profession, or ways that we're used to. I think listening a whole lot to the experiences of the people in our offices, on our campuses, and the students in our classrooms will provide a great deal of insight into where we're going or where we need to go for those who are coming up through COVID. I think what we're going to learn is that by listening to them, and listening to their needs, we will create a better place, better classrooms, better working environments, for those who will come after us.
TN: Were you able to attend the 2022 NASFAA conference virtual or in person, and how was the experience for you?
DK: I've gone to just about every NASFAA conference, at least in the last six years. I am a diehard NASFAA national conference fan. There were great sessions on removing bias in the scholarship selection process — and I am biased to that because there are team members from Wisconsin who did that one.
I learned a lot in another session on setting up communications in financial aid offices. What I really appreciated about the in-person session is that they practiced what they preached — making sure that they provided live captions during the conference, and making sure that their materials were legible and that people can take them home or access them electronically, and ensuring that they talk about things like language diversity in our offices. It was a really practical session, but it included a lot of things that had an eye toward belongingness and inclusion.
TN: Anything else you'd like to share with your colleagues?
DK: The biggest thing is I want to listen, too. I want to hear what people are seeing and experiencing from where they sit and what they think that we can do in concert with our state or regional associations, or with the profession.
Send your thoughts, questions, and comments regarding NASFAA's Diversity & Inclusion efforts. We'd love to hear what you think.
Publication Date: 7/26/2022