Conducted by Jibril Howard ’22 and Neve Levinson ‘21
On July 9th, Goucher announced the appointment of Aarika Camp Ph.D. as the new Vice-President and Dean of Students (VP & DOS). Overseeing the administrative division of Student Affairs, Dean Camp is tasked (among other things) with overseeing student life, Title IX compliance, tackling and or addressing diversity and discrimination, and helping students naviage and manage life at Goucher college in myriad ways. The VP & DOS position was among several filled over Covid-19 lockdown and summer including that of Associate Dean of Students for Diversity Equity and Title IX Juan Hernandez; Vice President of Campus Operations Erik Thompson; and Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs Elaine Meyer-Lee. The Q staff will be interviewing all these new staff members – below is our conversation with Dean Camp.
Jibril: Can you start by telling us a little bit about yourself, such as your previous position, what led you to Goucher, and your top three fun facts about yourself?
“OK, so before Goucher, I was at Nova Southeastern University. It’s a school in Fort Lauderdale [Florida] and it’s about 20,000 students, we had seven campuses, and most of the students were professional or grad students so I’ve worked with every type of med school student you could possibly think of from orthodontics to osteopathic medicine – like everything. I was there for 13 years. I’ve been in housing most of my career before I started being upper administration (loved it) and before there I was at Florida International [University]. I was in Florida for a lot of years at different types of institutions.
I realized – I think through the pandemic a lot of people had reflection – and being locked in my condo for months and going through obviously social unrest and figuring out what was important to me and my values. I was going to try and do that type of work, now being at a school that…is still trying to push it and the students are pushing it as well. It’s really important to me. That’s what attracted me to Goucher.
Three fun facts? Well no one would be surprised if anybody else was here…my first fun fact is I’m obsessed with BTS. I’m definitely a member of BTS I’m a definitely a member of Army [US BTS fan group] so this past weekend I watched about 16 hours-worth of BTS live concerts and all in Korean Time not in Eastern Standard Time so Saturday it was 6:00 AM and Sunday Morning it was at 3:00 AM. Anything BTS I’m on it. Another fun fact: I don’t wear colors. So, you’ll never see me outside in navy blue, grey, or black. This is actually the most fun print I have [black and white polka-dots]. Another fun fact is I’m the shortest in my family and I’m six feet tall. Even my nephew who is 15 is already 6’2 and he’s turning 16 in two weeks.”
What drove you to take on this position at Goucher?
“So it really kind of started…I felt like I had been proceeding according to my career goals there but then once everything really started happening from the pandemic it really started…I had always been a proponent in trying to get students to be more engaged in not only their experience on campus but also so they’re just experienced in the world and helping them to find what their identity was, and it was time that I start pushing the students and myself more in those types of conversations and so just it came to a point where I had written with a bunch of faculty to our president about how the social unrest was impacting us and the president received the email and the letter but I didn’t feel like it was received well enough to do work and so even now [at Goucher] GBSU [Goucher Black Student Union] has reached out a couple times and I’m about doing the work. We can have all the conversations in the world but until the pen hits the paper and things start happening…that’s where I felt like here would be the right place, in the right position, for me to start doing that whereas I didn’t have the position there to do that. I think also doing my interview process, the students that I met with all are looking for someone that could speak that same language of “how do we do this?” “How can we push the needle forward?” Not everything is going to go the way that they want but knowing that somebody is willing to listen – because I know that was important to me – that’s really what led me here.”
That leads me into my next question. What do you kind of see as your long- and short-term goals for your position? And you brought up working with GBSU, do you see their goals as being intertwined with your own?
“Well I think part of my short and long-term goals is to really assess what the student experience is, and not just for GBSU, but for any student on campus. I was always one of those students in college, I didn’t really know what group I fit into most of the time, and even now it’s not often you see a 41-year old African American woman at a BTS concert. You just don’t usually. Making sure students can find their niche on campus takes a lot of digging and investigating and asking questions about what your experience is, what are you looking for and what you want. Really trying to figure out what students are not tapping into that we really need to understand what their experiences is [sic]. I think again that with GBSU that would fall into the category for right now. The students who identify as Black and or African American don’t feel as engaged on campus and so how do we address that? Every year it can be a different population and so I just always have to be open to hearing that and addressing that.
I think another goal is that I haven’t worked with GCC [Goucher Consent Coalition] yet, but I’ve heard the safety concerns on campus. I think that’s another important goal I need to tackle in my role is what does a safe campus look like and not just safe in regards to Title IX issues. Just safe in terms of even if there is a student that doesn’t go with the norms of the college, so let’s say if it’s an extreme conservative student, they still have the right to share their opinions and be heard. Making sure that there is a safe campus for all of us to share our ideas in a constructive way that doesn’t hurt anyone else but that we still feel like we’re celebrated for who we are is important.
I think another goal is really trying to find what students expect out of a Vice-President. Some students here had Bryan [Coker] before, some of the grad students [who] went here for undergrad may have had somebody even different than Bryan. And so what the expectations are; I think another thing is I’m very authentic and transparent if you can’t already tell by conversation with you so just making sure that I’m able to forge relationships with students where they do feel right there is an upper-level administrator that they could go to and we may not always be on the same page but there going to always be heard.”
Neve: I think one question we have…it’s related to the GBSU demands out right now, you were talking about putting in the work and not just talking about stuff. How do you see that moving forward and where do you see your role in that besides being a listener?
“Well I think it’s open communication with them. We’ve exchanged some emails and trying to figure out when is a time we could meet to collaborate. I also think the ownership is the cabinet as well – I shared that with my interview process as well. I was born up Black and I’m probably going to leave this earth Black. My experience has been trying to understand what their experience has been and that some of their demands they shouldn’t have to tell us. As a person and as a part of the community I should be able to identify some of the demands on campus myself and start addressing them separately than GBSU. I think that’s where my philosophy is: what work can I be doing separately without them having to point to me and then what issues can they point to me that I can also address?”
Such as building those partnerships you were talking about before?
Exactly. I think the other part is we can’t rely on the students to always identify issues. We also have to be able to identify some issues that they may not see readily. That means also building a rapport where hopefully in years to come there won’t need to be a demand letter because I would’ve already had conversations where we can start fostering that regular communication that doesn’t have to lead to that type of request. If you think about our global society now, Black people have always either tried to vote to get that respect for their rights, tried to peacefully protest, tried to peacefully write to people, have done all of these things that didn’t necessarily pan out in the way we wanted so yeah people are mad now. My thing is if you’re responding appropriately along the way you don’t have to wait until people get so frustrated and mad that it turns to anger if you’re doing it the right way before. In my ten-year year that’s what I want to get to the point where people don’t have to write demand letters because we’ve been communicating and talking and looking at issues before it got to that point.”
Jibril: You brought up GCC earlier and their work obviously falls under the national context with the Presidential Election coming up and with the new Title IX guidelines that Goucher has had to adapt to which of course may change another six months from now. Can you address and speak to how you’re managing the [uncertainty surrounding the new Title IX policies]? Can you set expectations for students?
“I think the hard part right is that none of us can set expectations around it. I mean just in the last three and half years there’s been so much change that no one can even predict what will come out next. I mean there’s been a recent recension of the Clery Report, the Clery Handbooks that come out, that none of us expected. Who would’ve expected the recension of a reporting book such as that! That’s where I could have all the expectations in the world but until I get a real understanding of where we’re going to stand politically it’s just going to keep coming down the pipeline. I was talking to one of my colleagues probably a couple months ago and I can’t believe now the opportunity for cross-examination and an in-person cross-examination as a part of Title IX. I mean none of us would have expected that year ago and so that’s where it’s hard. It’s hard because as Student Affairs and as open-minded people, and as just people, we want to do what’s right by people involved in situations like this but then if we have regulations that we have to abide by or we’re going to get in trouble then there’s not a whole lot we can do. We’re kind of bound to that. I couldn’t even begin to tell you what the next regulations are going to be. You’re absolutely right – after six months it could be something completely different if the government shifts [or] if the government stays the same it could be something even more different in three months not even six. I think that’s where we’re all concerned about. There hasn’t been enough consistency. There hasn’t been enough time. I mean even to put out regulations during a pandemic and give it when colleges aren’t open. I can’t even begin to tell you why the expectation was “Hey! Colleges aren’t open so let’s put out new Title IX regulations” while we’re trying to stay alive in a pandemic. It’s those sorts of things where I think every vice president of student affairs is frustrated right now. We’re trying to implement things on our campus to keep people safe but then we’re given regulations that kind of make it difficult to do that in certain aspects.”
You’ve already touched on this a little but how are you adjusting to your job in the middle of the pandemic? How is it different to what you were envisioning coming into your position?
“The hard part is I’ve always been a student-centered type person. Even on social media I still keep in touch with students from my last institution and I’m trying to connect to a student here. It’s hard when you’re trying to forge relationships with people that you haven’t met in person. I can pick up social cues from you over Zoom but it’s very different than if you’re sitting right here and so I think that’s different. I haven’t met a lot of people yet so that’s been interesting. What I’m trying to do is that anytime anyone has asked me for a meeting, kind of like how you emailed me the other day, I try to respond quickly and say “when are you free?” and so I think that’s trying to be accessible in that. It’s also helpful where no student feels like they can’t get time with me. That’s a good part about Zoom and I’m a night owl so it’s like I’ll find the time. That’s been the challenge…setting that identity and tone now where if you have emailed me and say, “can we meet?” [the response would be] “absolutely, let’s find the time.””
This interview with Dean Camp is the second in a series of interviews with new staff hires. We have included the entire transcript of the interview because we are in a critical position on campus right now. The enormous amount of administrative turnover that has taken place in the past two or three years is finally culminating in the hiring of people to hold key positions of influence. As Goucher’s independent student newspaper, we see ourselves as students tasked with the responsibility of seeking out information from members of our community and re-expressing it to our readers. The transmission of information is crucial to give our peers access to this knowledge so we can shape student activism moving forward. Please stay tuned for future interviews.