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Hurte: 'This entire community is for you'

  • Vernon Hurte
    Vernon Hurte  Vernon Hurte is the director of the new Center for Student Diversity at William & Mary.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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Vernon Hurte thinks that the college experience is about more than just getting a degree.

"I believe that if you come to college and, after four or five years, leave the same way you came, you've missed out on a great opportunity," he said.

So when Hurte sees students who were struggling to find their place on campus - then experience moments when things start to flow and they see possibilities, "that means we're doing our job," he said.

"We're helping that student recognize that this is your community. There is no one part of it that's for you. This entire community is for you," he said.

Hurte wants to take that understanding to a whole new level at William & Mary this year through the efforts and programs of the College's new Center for Student Diversity. The new center, where Hurte serves as director, is an expansion of what used to be the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs. An open house for the center will be held at 7 p.m. on Aug. 27 in Campus Center room 159.

It wasn't too long ago when Hurte was a student himself. The Richmond, Va., native completed his undergraduate work in psychology at Bowie State University in Maryland. He then went on to the University of Tennessee where he received his PhD in educational psychology.

Though he had planned on becoming a professor, those plans changed after he was called in to do an assessment in the university's minority student affairs office.

"In the process of learning about what they were doing, I realized, this is exactly what I want to do," he said.

Hurte took on a graduate assistantship with the office, and during that time he learned about an opportunity in William & Mary's Office of Multicultural Student Affairs.

"When I came to interview, I actually just fell in love with the students and said this is the place for me," he said.

Hurte began working at William & Mary in April 2004 as the assistant director of multicultural student affairs.

"Vernon is very committed to students and their growth and development," said Chon Glover, who was director of the office of multicultural student affairs at the time. "From the time he arrived, he has brought energy and enthusiasm to his work. I'm looking forward to seeing his vision unfold with many new and exciting opportunities as he leads the Center for Student Diversity. "

In 2008, Glover moved to the Office of Student Affairs as an interim assistant vice president. Hurte became the interim director of multicultural student affairs.

Hurte and Glover will continue to work closely together. Glover was recently appointed by President Taylor Reveley as the full-time Assistant to the President for Diversity and Community Initiatives. Vice President for Student Affairs Ginger Ambler also appointed Hurte director of the new center.

"Vernon brings to this new role impressive academic credentials; strong professional experiences in the areas of diversity, leadership, and student development; and a real enthusiasm and vision for the new Center for Student Diversity," said Ambler in her announcement about his appointment.

Hurte said the interim position last year allowed him to expand his focus.

"It was definitely a great opportunity to do some different kinds of things," he said. "A lot of my focus has been on coalition building, really connecting more with the teaching faculty in particular."

Among the things the office did last year, Hurte is particularly proud of what they did during the Asian/Pacific Islander celebration when Evelyn Hu-DeHart, a well-known professor of ethnic studies from Brown University, visited the College.

"One of the things we did with her visit was not just have her deliver a keynote speech, but we also created an opportunity for a dialogue between professionals in student affairs and some of our faculty colleagues," Hurte said.

That dialogue and collaboration with faculty members is something that Hurte wants to see more of with the new center. Part of his vision for it includes an advisory board made up of alumni, current students, staff and faculty from across campus.

"(Having an advisory board) helps ensure that what we are doing as a center really speaks to student needs but is also speaking to where we're going as an institution," said Hurte. "When you look at grand challenge number two of the strategic plan, we want to really make sure that what we do is in concert with where the institution is going as a whole."

The new center was something that has been discussed for a few years, said Hurte. Part of the Division of Student Affairs' diversity committee discussions over the last year included an expansion of the multicultural student affairs office.

Hurte said the need for an expansion of the office and its services grew from the changing student population on campus.

"We've seen in the past few years, as we look at the student profile, we have a growing Jewish population on campus, a growing Muslim population on campus, but there has not been really in advisory and support resources there particularly for these groups of students," said Hurte. "And, as we look at some of our LGBTQ students, LAMBDA alliance has been a great ally and a great support organization from a student level but there hasn't necessarily been an administrative unit providing direct support to LGBTQ students. This has also been the case for students from various underrepresented religious/spiritual traditions."

Hurte added that the primary focus of the multicultural student affairs office had been racial and ethnic diversity.

"But recognizing the changes in our student profile, we saw that we really needed to expand our mission," he said.

Along with an increased focus on academic partnerships, Hurte also hopes that the new center will see an increase in community partnerships and a focus on the graduate student experience.

"This past year, we began a partnership with VIMS through a NSF grant that is supporting new doctoral fellows," said Hurte.  "Their students will be providing science instruction in some of the urban schools in the area, so our staff will be by providing diversity and cultural competency training for these new fellows. This will help in their preparation to go into unique learning environments with a very diverse group of students."

Hurte said the center is charged with supporting the entire campus, "so we definitely want to focus more on supporting our graduate students."

Hurte also wants the center to focus more on the academic success of students. "Not necessarily graduation rates, but equally important, how students graduate," he said.

"I want to see more of our students graduate with 3.0 or above, really positioned to meet their professional goals, whether that's graduate school or whether that's being competitive in the job market," said Hurte.

In order to achieve that, the center is going to continue partnering with the career center and will create a new partnership with the William & Mary in Washington program, as well as other departments across the College community.

Hurte said he wants the center to be inviting to the entire campus population.

"My hope is that not just students from underrepresented, underserved populations will make use, but our majority students, faculty, staff and members of the community will make use of the center as well," he said.

He said that success for the center's first semester will be achieving that goal.

In the long-term, he hopes that the center will be a leader in expanding how William & Mary views diversity.

"I think that's really important because no matter what background you come from or who the student is, every student brings something unique to the table," he said.

Hurte said that he is privileged to be in a community that's "rich in diversity" - whether that's racial/ethnic, religious/spiritual, geographic or experiential diversity.

"All of that impacts the richness of this community," he said. "We're hoping that the center will be a leader in helping us to continue to recognize that all of us bring something significant to the community."