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Respect and Collaboration at the Heart of TAMUC's 'Inclusive Community' Goal

Dr. Mark Rudin visits with a student.

The Texas A&M University-Commerce 2019-2024 Strategic Plan lists, "Create an inclusive community characterized by respect and collaboration," as a strategic priority and goal. An ongoing Civility Initiative, headed by counseling professor Dr. LaVelle Hendricks, seeks to instill and confirm ideas about how university personnel might positively interact with one another and with students, families, and community members.

A&M-Commerce president Dr. Mark Rudin discusses this institutional priority on The President's Perspective.

Transcription follows:

Jerrod Knight: This is The President's Perspective, a podcast with the purpose of sharing what's important and what matters to the president and CEO of Texas A&M University-Commerce, Dr. Mark Rudin. I'm Jerrod Knight. We're beginning this project with a series dedicated to the 2019-2024 strategic plan adopted by A&M-Commerce. The plan spells out the vision and mission of the institution as well as its four foundational principles which are a commitment to be transformative, innovative, inclusive and sustainable. The plan itself is available online at tamuc.edu/strategicplan, and we'll link to it everywhere this podcast is available. Included the plan are five strategic priorities and goals which are: student preparedness, elevate research, create an inclusive community, align our initiatives, and transform our operations. This episode is dedicated to the goal of creating an inclusive community. Dr. Rudin pleased to include you in this discussion.

Mark Rudin: Great to be here, Jerrod.

JK: What does an inclusive community look and feel like in 2020?

MR: Our goal is to create a safe, healthy, inclusive campus that allows faculty, staff, and especially our students to achieve their academic aspirations. That's what we should be about. We cannot do that if we do not have mutual respect for each other, treat each other in a civil manner, acknowledge differences in opinion, differences in culture, differences in experiences... in a campus. We have to acknowledge all those and factor those into consideration as we move forward. You and I may differ Jerrod, and we be maybe adamantly on opposite sides of the issue at hand, but we should be able to treat each other with respect and conduct ourselves in a very civil manner. That's what we're trying to achieve here at the university. We want everyone to be successful. We're going to have our differences once in a while, but it is expected at an institution of higher ed. That's what we do: we disseminate and talk about ideas and go back and forth and have those type of discussions. We should be respectful of everyone's ideas and opinions and create an opportunity to include everyone's ideas into that dialogue.

JK: And I think, too, that recognizes the role of the institution, it's... nobody's goal is to disagree. The disagreement, the discourse, is a starting point, is a jumping off point. The result is something far different from, "everybody go to your corner," right? The result is not a polarization. The result is a sort of a coming together of the mind. As we sit here, and I'm quoting from the [strategic plan,] an environment that's characterized by respect and collaboration. This can happen even when folks are in disagreement about one thing or theother.

MR: Absolutely.

JK: Talk about some of these bullets here, too. To enhance civility and the collegiality of administrators, faculty, staff and students. Here, we're really just putting an expectation on being kind to one another.

MR: Yeah. And there's a major initiative going on in campus right now, the whole civility initiative. I think, you know, it can be wrapped into however you want to take a look at it. Customer service, meeting the demands of people that require your services or whatever that may be. But at the end of the day, it's about how do we treat each other in a very kind and respectful manner. So when I think of people on the front lines, staff and faculty and so forth, how do we treat each other? How do we treat prospective students? I mean, imagine a scenario where a family comes up from Dallas and says, "Let's go take a look at A&M-Commerce," and they go to an office and they're put off or they're not treated, you know, you're not important to me... not treated kindly. Why would they want their son or daughter or niece or nephew to come here? Why would you want to introduce them into an environment that claims they want to be inclusive, but from from minute one, there was no indication there's any kind of civility or kindness [extended] to them. And so how do we treat each other kindly? How do we treat each other respectfully? And again, I think there would be some individuals that would say, "Well, wait, what are you doing? What is civility? Really? Is it really to treat each other kindly, respectfully, or is it put the clamps down at any kind of dialogue? 'You can't say that because you disagree with me. You're not kind.'" No, that's farthest from the truth. I want the dialogue. Again, I want the interaction. I want the disagreement, because that's what makes us great at times. What we can do so in a very civil and respectful way.

JK: So they say about metallurgy, right that you've got to get it awfully hot before you can make something incredible.

MR: That's right.

JK: In this same vein, I wanted to supplement our discussion today with audio from a recent broadcast of The Blacklands Cafe on 88.9 KETR, in which the host John Mark Dempsey discusses with counseling professor Dr. Lavelle Hendricks about the civility initiative at Texas A&M University-Commerce and you were a guest on that chat as well. Let's listen.

John Mark Dempsey: And our guest in the cafe this morning is Dr. Lavelle Hendricks, Associate Professor of Counseling at A&M-Commerce. Good morning, Lavelle!

Lavelle Hendricks: Good morning, Dr. John Mark Dempsey. How are you today?

JMD: I'm grand and Dr. Hendricks has brought a guest... a very special guest with him this month.

LH: Indeed a special guest: the president and CEO of [A&M-Commerce,] Dr. Mark Rudin.

JMD: Dr. Rudin, good morning.

MR: Good morning to both of you.

JMD: We have talked with Lavelle here several times in recent weeks about the subject of civility.

LH: That is correct. The civility is the initiative that President Rudin put in place this past year, and it's just been moving exceptionally fast here on campus.

JMD: Tell me about how this came about and what initiated the idea in the first place that this was something we should all be focused on.

MR: Yeah. Well, thank you. Thanks again for having me here. It's always good to talk about talk to you guys. Yeah, I think that we always have to understand that we're in the people business. Even an institution of higher ed has to feel that way. But we are. We are there to work towards the success of our students. That's what it comes down to at the end of the day. And so we have a lot of students that are new to higher ed. We have a lot of students that have not been part of a higher ed family. And I think it's incredibly important that we work with these students, we work with the parents to be able to create an environment that they feel comfortable, they feel safe, they feel healthy, they feel inclusive, and an environment where they can be successful. And that's what we're trying to strive for.

JMD: Are we mostly focusing on students and the need for students to learn to be more civil or are we mostly focused faculty and staff or or everybody?

MR: Yeah, I would say everyone. But initially I think we're reaching out to faculty and staff and having discussions with them to think twice about how they interact with folks, whether it's students or fellow faculty and staff. And we've implemented a number of new initiatives at the University - Lavelle can brief you on those - that focuses on that, again, that customer service to help our students be successful and navigate through... college is already hard enough. We shouldn't make it any harder. We should do everything in our power to make sure that they're successful, and they're accommodated, while they're pursuing their degree.

LH: One of the things we've done, John Mark, and course the president's reiterated this over and over again, of course, we are a student-centered University. We brought in the Dale Carnegie group, where we've had, right now, 100 of the university employees - that's with the executive team, that's faculty, staff members, department chairs and so forth - who've actually gone through this training and it's just been wonderful. And we're looking forward to the next training on January the 30th, where we'll take another batch of 50 employees through the training so we can promote a more civil community here at the university.

JMD: We're talking with Dr. Mark Rudin, the president of A&M-Commerce, and also Dr. Lavelle Hendricks, associate professor of counseling, and we're talking about the civility initiative at the university. What are some examples in the training? What are some of the things that you do?

LH: I think for the most part, first of all, we teach the concept of respect, understanding, nurturing community, a caring community, a sharing community... a lot of hands on exercise with those individuals who are in attendance. We have other trainings in place, and we're exceptionally excited about what we'll be doing with our students and the residence halls, our Greek life students, our students who are involved in athletics as well. We're bringing all those individuals together to talk about how we can promote more civility here on campus and we are designating those individuals as student ambassadors.

MR: And what's so... surprising, a little bit, but very welcome is: as I go across campus and I talk to folks about the civility initiative, and I think, "Okay, am I overstating this? Are we making too big of a deal out of this?" And I would say to a person, to an academic department... they say, "No, we're spot on. This is exactly what we should be doing. We should have been doing this all along." So the campus I believe, has received this with open arms and is actively engaged and I've heard nothing but good things from folks that have taken part of these civility workshops and training.

LH: And the beautiful thing about it, John Mark, is that we're gonna have over 500 University employees who will actually go through the training as I said a few minutes ago. Our next training is scheduled for January. And I assure you, we have no problem getting individuals signed up and registered. People are actually emailing and texting saying, "I'd like to go through the training," because they've heard wonderful things about it. And it is in a non-intrusive environment as well. [It will] teach them great skills, how to make A&M-Commerce the premier university that we are.

JMD: Dr. Rudin, will we see this going on for an extended period of time or what's the timeframe for it?

MR: Absolutely, this is not a one-and-done deal by any means. I think this is an ongoing discussion that we have from this point forward into the future. So, I don't think there's such a thing as being too civil. Right? I think we have a lot of issues in our society and as far as being able to have dialogue and be able to disagree and agree at the same time and I think we can set the example and be an institution and leader in this area and continue that path forward.

JK: Again, that was you Dr. Rudin, speaking with Dr. Lavelle Hendricks and John Mark Dempsey on 88.9 KETR about the topic at hand, which is the obligation to create an inclusive community at Texas A&M University-Commerce. There's, too, another bullet here about recruiting, developing and retaining diverse students, faculty, staff, and administrators. I would think that the student component maintains itself. I'd like to think that the diversity of the students are going to continue to reflect the community such that students who decide to come to A&M-Commerce are themselves already a diverse group, though I do recognize with initiatives like the Hispanic Serving Institution initiative, and so forth, that we've got to make sure that we're recruiting across the board the way that would support those initiatives.

MR: And I would agree with that, Jerrod. But I would say that we can do a much better job as an institution in serving that diverse student body with a diverse administration and faculty and staff. We have a little bit of work to do there. We made some strides in some areas, introducing a staff and faculty of color to the university. We need to do more, and we are going to do more. I can't tell you how many discussions I've had with either a Latinx or African-American student that has told me, and confided in me, really, that, "I'm a senior here. I haven't had one class from an African-American faculty member. That would have been nice to have that, to take a class from someone that doesn't teach a class any better, but maybe someone that looks like me, and comes from my background." And there's some value in that.

JK: There's more research now that supports that, you know, even in public education in elementary school, that students who see teachers who look like them and who talk like them, and who are, you know, representative of their demographic, whatever that demographic happens to be, those students tend to be more successful in the long run. I would think the same thing would hold true in the collegiate atmosphere.

MR: Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, I think it all begins with the recruitment process, right? When we have a job posting, are we truly doing everything in our effort to make sure that that job description and that opportunity reaches every possible nook and cranny out there and perhaps reaches the most diverse audience that we can add to recruit people to apply for that for that position? And so we are looking and working with HR and some other human resources and some other offices to figure out how do we expand that reach of our job postings. I can't tell you how happy I am that our TABPHE group, our Texas Association of Black Personnel in Higher Ed, have stepped up into this discussion and said, "You know, maybe we ought to think out of the box a little bit. Maybe one strategy may be: maybe we need to home grow our own. Maybe we need to advance African-American, or Latinx, Hispanic staff and if we produce Hispanic or African-American PhD candidates, can we home grow our own and bring those very talented people and keep them here? And have them become part of our faculty and, and staff ranks?"

JK: But you also mentioned - well, YOU don't mention... the plan mentions, too, as another of this milk stool, this three legged milk stool that supports, is creating occasions for meaningful interactions across the institution, the university including opportunities that enhance global awareness. And this really kind of has us not just looking inwardly, but looking out across the globe, across the world to see what sort of, not only, skills we're going to need in order to interact across the globe, but also to make sure that we are shucking anything that would prevent that from being second nature to our students.

MR: And we do have a very healthy international student population on campus and love the opportunities that may be provided to have those students interact with our students and faculty and staff, and really use that as a learning experience. You know, I could see scenarios where international students and our own US citizen students are sitting in the classroom, learning a topic or subject matter, but approaching it from different perspectives and learning it from different perspectives and appreciating how that learning and different perspectives are across student bodies and on an individual-by-individual basis. So you know, that being said, I think that, you know, anything we do to continue to create visits and international opportunities for all our students to visit other countries and look at other ethnicities and cultures and bring that information back home is something we should continue to focus on as an institution.

JK: Well, the message is to be as inclusive as possible; creating an inclusive community. That's part of the strategy - the five part strategy here in the strategic plan. Dr. Rudin, thank you so much for joining us.

MR: Great to be here, Jerrod.

JK: The Presidents Perspective is produced by 88.9 KETR from the campus of Texas A&M University-Commerce. I'm Jerrod Knight. Thanks for listening.

Jerrod Knight oversees station programming, news and sports operations, individual and corporate development efforts, business and budget planning and execution, and technical operations.
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