As the newly appointed Vice President of Administration, Michelle Rogers ’19 (Ed.D.) provides leadership and oversight for Human Resources, Facilities Management, Public Safety, Administrative Services, Event Services, and the Office of Equity and Title IX. Mika Elizabeth Ono and Katie Olson of the Bulldog Blog spoke to Rogers about how she is managing her new responsibilities, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and how her doctoral research relates to her background and interests.
Bulldog Blog: How are you doing with your new responsibilities?
Michelle Rogers: It certainly has been interesting taking on a new role in this unprecedented time, while simultaneously addressing financial challenges and continuing to support the Board of Trustees and President Kuncl. I feel fortunate to have this opportunity. Right now, I am in learning mode. I have been reading, listening, and asking many questions.
My tasks are varied and encompass many non-academic aspects of the institution. The role’s multiplicity is what I love about it. One moment I am touring the Energy Center trying to understand how the chillers work, and the next I am taking a deep dive into employee benefits. It is a bit overwhelming at the moment, but my work as the President’s Chief of Staff and Secretary to the Board for the past seven years has prepared me well.
I have started a listening tour with various departments as one way to gather new ideas from the people who know their work the best. Because I worked closely with all of the units in my previous role, I bring the perspective of someone who was a recipient of their services. There’s no need to change anything that is working well; rather, I want to focus on how our operations have changed over time and what is required now to support the needs and priorities of the institution.
BB: How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting your units?
Rogers: First, I think it is important to acknowledge how COVID is affecting us as individuals and as a society. The pandemic has taken a physical, emotional, and mental toll on us all. It’s hard to separate that from our work. We’re balancing all of the worries of our personal lives with those in our professional lives, and taking time to talk about that before handling business is vital. I try to approach my work by recognizing how I am feeling so I am able to give my best to others. Just when it seems we cannot possibly add one more thing to our plates, another crisis emerges and our community demonstrates its resiliency. I am inspired daily by the random text message from a colleague that simply says, “I appreciate you” or the quick phone call to check in and ask how I am doing. Compassion goes a long way when dealing with a national crisis.
COVID has had tangible impacts on the units within my purview and it has temporarily changed the way we must operate, resulted in loss of revenue, and necessitated some permanent organizational changes. However, among the most difficult actions necessitated by the pandemic has been the need to reduce work schedules, furlough employees, and eliminate positions. These decisions are never made lightly and the gravity of doing so during a pandemic weighed heavily on the entire Cabinet and me. And so I come back to compassion, because at the end of the day, it is our humanity and respect for one another that sustains us through our most challenging days.
In the midst of the pandemic, we also updated and expanded the Policy Prohibiting Discrimination, Harassment, Sexual Misconduct, and Retaliation. Updates to the Title IX policy were made in accordance with the Department of Education’s May 6, 2020, revisions to Title IX regulations. The policy now outlines the process to report Title IX sexual harassment matters as well as non-Title IX equity matters, including discrimination on the basis of race. As promised in the June 29 communication on our diversity, equity, and inclusion work, the expanded policy now includes a defined process for reporting equity concerns and procedures for investigating and adjudicating equity matters.
BB: What do you enjoy most about the U of R?
Rogers: The people and the culture of the place. I know that sounds cliché, but when I think about the reasons I chose to relocate from upstate New York for the opportunity to work at the University of Redlands, what stood out was the connection I immediately had to the community. The camaraderie was palpable, and, as an outsider, I could see what was meant by the education of the “heart and the mind.” I wanted to be a part of that. This community is being tested in ways it has probably never experienced, and I see people coming together in spite of the fear, anxiety, pain, and myriad other emotions we are experiencing. I appreciate engaging in challenging discourse on important topics with colleagues and continuing to educate myself, knowing that we all have the same goal—to make Redlands the best place it can be for all those who study and work here.
BB: How did your Doctorate in Leadership for Educational Justice at Redlands build on your background and interests?
Rogers: Ever since I can remember, I have been interested in issues of justice and equality. Even as a child, I was an avid reader on women’s suffrage, civil rights, and other topics. I was always rooting for the underdog. When I was in elementary and high school I wasn’t familiar with the concept of allyship, but looking back that resonates. There was one student in my high school band that everyone picked on. I would sit on the bus with her, and we formed a good relationship. When we were graduating, our band director—who was an amazing person and always there for students—took me aside and said, “Your relationship with that student helped her get through high school. I don't think you ever realized what you were doing, but I felt like I needed to tell you now, as you're leaving so that you can go out into the world and continue to do these things.” It wasn't until college that I realized you could translate your own beliefs and ethos into actions to effect change on a bigger scale beyond just one relationship.
I was the first person in my family to go to college. My dad, who emigrated from Italy when he was 18, has only an eighth-grade education (although you would never know it) and my mom, a high school diploma. They are incredible parents with so many amazing attributes, but they didn’t have the knowledge to navigate the application process. So, when I was preparing to go to college, I didn't have anyone to talk with about the process. There was no internet and my high school counselor focused more on what type of career I might want. I went to college fairs, picked up some brochures, and thought, “Oh yeah, that looks good.” That’s how I ended up at the State University of New York, Oswego. Thankfully, it was a great choice!
When I earned my master’s in higher education administration at the University of Rochester Margaret Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development, my areas of focus were access, equity, identity development and intersectionality, and social mobility through education. I was able to continue and expand on those while earning my Doctorate in Leadership for Educational Justice at the School of Education.
During the Redlands Ed.D. program, I was challenged to revisit my assumptions and support my convictions at a much deeper level than ever before. I learned not only from my professors, but also from my classmates. I also learned a lot about myself. My dissertation research, which aimed to understand the college experience for working-class students through student interviews and focus groups, was deeply personal. I realized that during my undergraduate years, I had experienced a “cleft habitus”—a concept developed by French philosopher and sociologist Pierre Bourdieu describing the straddling of two identities. I felt like Valentine Michael Smith in Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land trying to reconcile my culture and training within a new environment; one in which I was quasi-working-class and quasi-middle-class.
BB: How are you integrating your commitment to diversity and inclusion into your new job?
Rogers: I aim to honor peoples’ lived experiences and create opportunities to engage in conversations that require us to think about how our social identities shape our values and how we interact with others whose beliefs, attitudes, values, and customs are different from our own. We each need to recognize how our own learned attitudes, behaviors, and tendencies influence our thoughts and actions before we can begin to understand those of others. Then we need to ask “What are the small, sustainable steps we each can take every day to make a difference?”
I’ve also been thinking about points to consider when implementing any new training and/or diversity and inclusion programs. How do we sustain the learning and continue the process of learning once the training/program concludes? How do we measure program efficacy? And how do we use what we learn to make institutional changes? I am excited about the prospect of coming together as a community to take action and strengthen equitable and inclusive programs and policies. I believe that everyone in our community has competencies, and we must foster an environment in which those competencies are valued and used equitably and in which everyone feels comfortable sitting at the table and participating in the conversation.
No one person or one policy can fix the problems we face, but, as a community working together, empowering our fellow colleagues, we are capable of solving problems, learning new skills, and challenging our assumptions while we are part of the process together.