Campus Life 'Top 10' priorities focus on building community

By Kimber Williams | Emory Report | Aug. 22, 2015

Senior Vice President and Dean of Campus Life Ajay Nair welcomes the newest class of Emory students with a myriad of ways to get involved.

Long before fall semester, Ajay Nair, senior vice president and dean of Campus Life, was meeting with Emory student leaders, previewing key developments that incoming students should know about for the new academic year.

Call it the Emory Campus Life Top 10 — a carefully honed list of programs, initiatives and goals intended not only to help shape students lives and campus culture, but to also enhance opportunities and resources for growth and learning.

From a new emphasis on helping nurture student advocates in the art of public deliberation to the creation of new gathering spaces that strengthen a sense of community and inclusion, it all comes down to advancing innovations, says Nair.

Frankly, it's a list that excites Nair, with a focus that provides students a hands-on role in helping to shape a collaborative campus culture that promotes feelings of belonging, investment and engagement.

"The great thing is that these ideas came from students, in partnership with the administration and us," he says. "Students were a critical part of this. None of it would have happened without Emory students."

Leading the list of new developments for Campus Life this year:

1. The Barkley Forum Center for Debate Education

Emory's award-winning debate program will now help train students in the art of oral communication and public deliberation through the three campus-wide projects: campus dialogues, debate and advocacy trainings, and public debates on local and international issues.

2. New spaces

Campus Life aims to build community through a variety of new and renovated spaces. Plans are moving forward to re-envision a new Campus Life Center, while Centro Latino has opened in the Dobbs University Center (DUC). A new student section with enhanced seating will create more of an arena-like setting in the Woodruff P.E. Center gymnasium, and bookstore renovations will offer a second floor "community-building" space for students. Finally, a new outdoor pavilion, planned across from the Chappell Park baseball field, will provide flexible programming and informal social space for student activities and other campus functions.

3. Enhancing international student life

Campus Life's Office of International Student Life has launched a bridge-building volunteer program that pairs Emory international students with domestic students to strengthen conversational skills and cross-cultural relationships.

4. Emory Entrepreneurship Ecosystem (E3)

Emory's E3 programs focus on providing resources and infrastructure for undergraduate students to engage in entrepreneurial interests and projects. They include the Raoul Hall social entrepreneurship living-learning community, the MBA mentorship program and the E3 Living Lab.

5. Greek Taskforce

The goal is reimagining Emory Greek Life "to be the very best in the country," Nair says, to serve as a model for other institutions.

6. Dining improvements

With Bon Appetit Management stepping in as Emory's new food service vendor, changes include a second Highland Bakery in the newly renovated Atwood Chemistry building, Kaldi's Coffee opening in the Coca-Cola Commons at the DUC, and the ability for students to pay with Dooley Dollars at the weekly farmer's market. The Depot will open fall semester with new, fresher menu options. Next summer plans call for a comprehensive renovation of the facility, including a performance area for student programming.

7. Sexual violence prevention

Data from a campus climate survey on sexual violence conducted earlier this year among faculty, staff and students is being analyzed; recommendations will be forthcoming. All incoming students are now required to complete online training on interpersonal violence prevention.

8. New senior leaders

Campus Life has filled three key senior leadership positions: Suzanne Onorato, assistant vice president of community; Michael Vienna, director of athletics and recreation; and Wanda Collins, assistant vice president of counseling and psychological services.

9. Cultural change

Campus Life plans to continue shaping campus culture with an emphasis on communication, collaboration, connection and creativity.

10. Strategic planning

Campus Life's strategic planning process has identified six core values to guide the division in the future, Nair says. These include flourishing (creating a community of care), critical inquiry (authentic, free exploration), cultural humility (self-reflection and self-critique that leads to greater intercultural understanding), courageous inquiry (ethical decision-making and principled behavior), social justice (challenging injustices and affirming differences), and professional excellence (helping staff and students be exemplary and innovative).

Work grounded in strategic values

The Top Ten list is rooted in a series of strategic plan "values" — six foundational principles (see above) selected through a year-long conversation with more than 1,000 Emory community members, to "help bind Campus Life together, creating a more unified division and also a more unified Emory," says Nair.

"With broad input, we've moved to defining our strategic plan values," he explains. "Now we have this guide, along with our mission, vision and values. These are the core definitions that will guide us."

Strategic planning now moves outward into the 24 departments within Campus Life, which will work collaboratively with students, faculty and alumni to develop departmental strategic plans based upon identified values.

"We'll also draw upon students to reflect on those values and dream with us," Nair says. "That's ultimately what our strategic plan is about — creating incredible aspirational goals that we think we can achieve."

Addressing critical issues

Going into the 2015-2016 academic year, Nair says he's also mindful of two broad issues: an ongoing national conversation around race and the work that continues at Emory to understand and prevent sexual violence.

"One thing I can't get off my mind is what is happening in our country around race," Nair says. "I think the country has reached a boiling point in many ways. And I think it is our responsibility to cultivate change agents that can provide national leadership on this issue and foster a more socially just community of care on our own campus."

"We're a microcosm of society, in many ways," he adds. "What a laboratory, in a sense, for us to consider these issues — to train change agents, future leaders, to help transform the world and make it a better place."

The issue of race is also "obviously, deeply connected to several of our core values: social justice, cultural humility and critical inquiry," Nair observes, noting that there will be opportunities to address the topic through Campus Life's Barkley Forum debate and dialogue programs and Campus Life's Center for Diversity and Inclusion.

Sexual violence prevention also continues to be a critical campus issue for Nair, "one that we intend to make significant progress on this year," he adds.

This year's campus climate survey — a first of its kind at Emory, developed in collaboration between students, staff and top faculty researchers and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — will lend "a better understanding of the attitudes, values and beliefs of all our community members, which is the only way that we'll be able to achieve radical change in the future."