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Monday, August 8, 2016

(25) Interview with Dr. Kimberly Barrett

" My mother felt that no matter how bad things get, we could work to make them better."

Dr. Kimberly Barrett, Vice President for Multicultural Affairs and Community Engagement at Wright State University (WSU) prepares students to be agents of social change by facilitating a program at WSU which encourages them to be actively engaged with their multicultural global world. Additionally, she is committed to diversity and inclusion - ensuring that the student body, faculty and staff at WSU are a representation of their society.

However, in just a few days, she sets off to start a new position at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. Yet before she departs, in a Lean In Dayton interview, she reveals the recipe for honing leadership.

Lean In Dayton: Can you briefly explain what your role entails as Vice President for Multicultural Affairs and Community Engagement at Wright State University?

Dr. Kimberly Barrett: My job at Wright State University has two complementary parts. First, I serve as Chief Diversity Officer. In this role I provide leadership for issues related to creating a welcoming environment for all who might contribute to and benefit from the educational enterprise in which we are engaged at Wright State University. So that involves recruiting and retaining a diverse faculty, staff and student body and helping everyone understand the skills they need to deal effectively with diversity, the cultural competency skills needed to be effective. It ensures that students are prepared to be engaged global citizens.

Lean In Dayton: How do you feel this program is impacting future leaders?

Dr. Kimberly Barrett: I think that we are helping students learn to become future leaders, to think critically and compassionately about the challenges we all face as a society and as individuals. And hopefully it's motivating them to be actively involved and engaged in developing solutions to our most pressing problems. It's one thing that they have the skills to make a difference but it's another to be motivated to do it. I hope we are motivating people to want to make a difference.

Lean In Dayton: Looking back, early in your career or even in your college years, can you compare your career objectives to where you are now?

Dr. Kimberly Barrett: I have always been motivated in my career to try to make a difference. I started out in community mental health. I thought I was going to be a clinical psychologist, maybe open up a private practice while being very involved in the community. Ultimately, I saw my graduate degree as a vehicle for having a voice. But as it turned out, I ended up marrying someone who was a tenured professor at a university. And then I was lucky enough to get a position at the university where my partner worked. Consequently, I learned about the ways that universities can make a difference. Within my realm of influence as an administrator, I try to set up systems where people are valued, respected and are helped to reach their unique potential.

Lean In Dayton: Since the inception of your leadership at Wright State, how has the diversity pool improved?

Dr. Kimberly Barrett: I'm very happy about some of our results in terms of the full-time tenure track faculty. From 2012 to 2016, our African American tenure track faculty members have increased by 86%.  In terms of our Latino staff, there is a 72% increase. Also, our Asian population has grown as well. Our largest proportion of staff of color are people who identify as African-American. Now these are relatively small numbers in comparison to the overall size of our faculty and staff, but we are moving in the right direction. We have also seen a decrease in students reporting that they experience discrimination on campus.

Lean In Dayton: How is your department working with the community to ensure diverse career paths?

Dr. Kimberly Barrett: We have been trying to figure out ways that we can make sure that all of our students have some kind of experiential-learning opportunity whether it's an internship, or something related to serving and engaging their community. I think we have done a lot in our Career Services department. We want to ensure that they are exposed to a variety of different careers, have hands on experience and really are focused on helping meet the needs of the community. Also, we have strived to reach out to our immigrant community through our Welcome Dayton Community efforts to try and help highly skilled immigrants find professional work.
Lean In Dayton: Which incident in your life, group or person played a crucial part in your leadership skills today?
Dr. Kimberly Barrett: There are lots of people - other administrator that served as what some people refer to as sponsors who provided a way for my credentials or experience that I would not have been able achieve without help. For example, while I was working full time and had a young child at home, Dr. Don Robinson, Vice President of Student Affairs at Murray State University provided an opportunity for me to take paid leave to complete my Ph.D.. Certainly, my husband, having worked in higher education most of his career has been a very beneficial confidant and mentor. As a faculty member, he has been able to provide a perspective from the trenches. Also, growing up, my parents were really focused on me speaking up and being assertive while also having a regard for the wellbeing and rights of other folks. My mother had a sense of optimism. She felt that no matter how bad things get, we could work to make them better; we could get through it. Although there were a lot of people who gave me various bits of advice and experiences that have helped me along the way, these were people that stood out the most.

Lean In Dayton: If you had to assign a class or study to grow developing women leaders what would that be?

Dr. Kimberly Barrett: I think “Introduction to Women's Studies” would be great for anybody to take not just women leaders. Also a class on emotional intelligence because that's a skill that we all need to acquire.

Lean In Dayton: What does the class on emotional intelligence pertain?

Dr. Kimberly Barrett: It involves understanding and managing your emotions and the emotions of others. It is developing the skills such as adaptability, being able to deal with stress, empathy and so forth. Again, everyone needs this considering the environment we have today which requires that we have the skills to deal with diversity and the ambiguity that comes with constant change. Emotional intelligence helps us deal effectively with these exciting and challenging times in which we live as part of the process of acquiring skills related to being culturally competent.

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