Vanessa Alexander became the new director of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion at Truman State University Feb. 14, where she said she hopes to increase the presence of the CDI on campus and ensure it is a safe place for all students.
Alexander graduated from Truman during 2016 and then worked in the Truman admissions office for about a year. She said she initially planned on using the time as a gap year between undergraduate and social work school, but while working in the office, she fell in love with higher education and wanted to continue working with students as they decided on their undergraduate careers.
Alexander said after working at Truman, she worked at A.T. Still admissions. While there, she worked as a diversity liaison and helped people along the application journey. Following this, she worked at Drexel University in Philadelphia, continuing to work in admissions and diversity and inclusion. Then she worked at the University of Pennsylvania on various diversity committees, event planning and financial aid support work.
Alexander said while she was at Truman, she was very involved, which greatly impacted her experience at the University as an underrepresented student when compared to her peers.
“There were so many struggles and things that underrepresented students, or just students in general, depending on what was going on in their lives, that they struggled with based on the lack of connection some faculty and staff had with students or just understanding different cultures and backgrounds,” Alexander said. “That made it a little difficult for me and my peers to feel at home, included and valued here on campus.”
Alexander said these experiences led her to become a diversity fellow on campus and work on the minority diversity ambassadors’ program to increase visible diversity on campus. She also worked with different fraternities and sororities on how to deal with forms of discrimination such as microaggressions and provided them with inclusivity training.
Alexander said her wide range of experiences on campus and many of the challenges she faced helped make her who she is today. She said she believes Truman was ultimately a great place to grow.
Alexander said one of her primary goals is to increase the Center for Diversity and Inclusion’s presence on campus. She said she wants students to understand it is a resource that everyone can use. The office has a community room and computers for students to use as needed, along with a classroom organizations can use. They also always have snacks available for students.
“We also want to focus on a lot of collaborative efforts across campus,” Alexander said. “Here at the CDI, we are looking to collaborate with everyone. I have been trying to put my hand in everything since I’ve been here, working with faculty, working with different offices on campus. I’ve also been doing my best to help out with student organizations and things they’ve been doing,” Alexander said.
Amanda Langendoerfer, associate dean of interdisciplinary studies and creative inquiry and director of special collection and museums, said she recently had a discussion with Alexander regarding the role of the University’s items in special collections and Alexander’s educational goals. Langendoerfer said she and Alexander discussed ways to incorporate the items within special collections and use those to help further CDI educational goals. Langendoerfer said there is a wide range of items located in special collections and that she often works with professors and other campus groups to use these items to connect with history. In special collections, there are items that are up to 4,000 years old.
Kerrion Dean, program coordinator at the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, was part of the recruitment process. He said work to hire a new CDI Director began about a year ago after the previous director, Saint Rice, left. The search was initially difficult because of the way the job was posted, and after changing the description of the position, the posting began to receive more traction.
Dean said Alexander wants to continue the current mission of the CDI. He said Alexander’s experience as an alumna of the University grants her additional perspectives on the struggles certain students face and the wider environment they are engaged in. He said the two of them having a younger age allows them to better connect with students and work with them and administration.