In an open forum Monday, the second of three candidates for the position of the dean of students said that as dean, she would emphasize the importance of communication with and among students of various cultural identities.
Brandi P. Jones, who currently serves as associate dean of graduate affairs in the school of engineering and applied science at Princeton University, said she began her career in student advocacy as a student activist during her undergraduate years at California State University at Long Beach.
“I came to this profession having been a student leader and a very vocal student activist, on and off campus,” Jones said. An active member of a sorority, the Black Student Union, and a cheerleading team as an undergrad, she said, “I appreciate and value student voice.”
Jones told an audience of approximately 40 students, faculty, and staff that she saw three main reasons why she would be an ideal fit for Cornell: her “demonstrated leadership,” experience in practicing student advocacy, and scholarship in higher education and student development.
Noting that she has worked at institutions of varying size and style, including small liberal arts colleges and large public universities, Jones said her “special relationship” with students has been “the highlight of [her] career.”
“I’ve always been visible and very much engaged with the student experience,” Jones said. “I find ways to get involved across campus.”
If selected the new dean of students, Jones said she would make an effort to create opportunities for students from different cultural background, and especially underrepresented students, to engage in conversation with Cornell administrators.
“There can’t be one Cornell experience,” Jones said. “We probably would like for there to be, but the truth is, everyone does not experience this institution in the same way. I think we need to pay attention to students’ perceptions and attitudes that are shaped by institutional history and culture.”
Jones emphasized the importance of creating intentional venues for students to engage in dialogue about cultural difference and progress on campus, warning that while a diverse student body is “great,” college campuses “must move beyond numbers of students as end goals.”
“If you don’t create intentional opportunities for [students] to engage, I won’t say it’s a loss,” she added, “but I’ll say we’ve lost an opportunity.” Jones described programs she has initiated at Occidental College and California Institute of Technology to create safe spaces for conversation around mental health and LGBT issues for graduate students who may not have felt comfortable discussing these subjects outright.
Jones also mentioned campus conditions that are specific to Cornell as a well-established university.
“On campuses like Cornell, we have things that have existed for a long time, and sometimes they still exist just because they’ve existed for a long time,” Jones said. With a changing student population and shifting demographics, she suggested that the office of the dean of students “take a close look” to determine whether existing practices “still reflect the student population.”
Jones also emphasized her strong belief in shared governance, a concept that has stirred debate in the Student Assembly and across campus.
“My personal values very much align with shared governance,” Jones said, adding that she considered it important to ask “who’s sitting at the table” when budget decisions are made.
As dean of students, Jones said her first action would be assessment of campus climate.
“I’m not talking about surveys,” she said. “I’m talking about creating intentional opportunities to hear the experiences and voices of students who fall outside of the margins.”
After assessing campus climate, Jones said she would embark on a more challenging project: creating accountability at all levels of the University.
Julia Montejo ’17, vice president for diversity and inclusion for the Student Assembly, asked Jones how she would create more accountability for tenured faculty. Citing student experience of biased treatment from professors, Montejo said students “oftentimes face the barrier that we’re told that it’s really hard to hold tenured faculty accountable.”
Jones said she would work to create “ways that we can hold departments and particular faculty accountable.”
“The reality is, are they going to get fired? Probably not,” she said. “The way you begin to hold [tenured faculty members] accountable is, you work up their chain.”
Ashton Cooper ’18, president of Haven, asked how Jones would work on behalf of a variety of LGBT student identities as their representative. Jones responded that as dean of students, she “[does] not have to be the one speaking.”
“There are times when it’s necessary for the dean of students to be the voice, but I would not miss the opportunity to have student leadership standing alongside me,” Jones said. “It would be my role just to be an advocate for all students.”