Williams tackles diversity challenges with new responsibilities

Ronnie WilliamsRonnie Williams sees opportunities.

With new responsibilities as vice president for student services and institutional diversity, he hopes that the Office of Diversity and Community can build on an established foundation and help under-represented populations campus wide.

“I think it’s evolving. I really don’t want the focus to be on the position and the person responsible for leading this initiative,” Williams said. “I won’t even call it a new initiative. The focus is going to be continuing to do some things that I think we’ve done well, and that’s sensitivity training. I think we’ve led the state in that. I think Charlotte Strickland and her office has done an excellent job in continuing to challenge the campus in ways that will help us to become and be culturally competent.”

Williams has served as the vice president of student services for 18 years before taking on the new title; however, having served as the first director of minority affairs, the fit seemed perfect.

“It is a challenge, because I have one division that is very demanding,” Williams said. “We should have 11,000 plus students (at the beginning of the fall semester), so it is a command (challenge), but again with the resources we can do it, and the president is committed to and providing the resources necessary to get it done.”

Williams added that President Tom Courtway has a three-pronged approach to tackling diversity issues. The hope is to house compliance within the president’s office, with responsibilities ranging from Title IX to affirmative action. A human resources component will report to Associate Vice President for Human Resources Graham Gillis. The third prong will be Williams’ office, which will handle programming related to campus diversity.

The first step in tackling that plan is instituting a strategic plan related to diversity, which Williams hopes to implement by the end of the fall semester.

“There is a need to implement a university diversity strategic plan,” he said. “What we hope will happen is that at the end of the fall semester is that we will have implemented a university-wide diversity plan, so that’s time sensitive and something we need to get up and running.”

President Courtway has also asked that every department and college on campus be reviewed to “assist them in meeting the diversity expectations of not only their respective colleges, but also for the entire campus,” according to Williams

“That will be a work in progress; that work will continue for years to come,” Williams said. “I anticipate the strategic plan to be a document that is a living document that we continue to massage from this point on.”

Another area in which Williams hopes to affect change is in the retention and graduation of under-represented students, particularly African American students.

“It’s not where we would like for it to be; it’s certainly not for me personally,” Williams said. “We have always been, and continue to be, a place of choice for under-represented students, African American students in particular. We have not been as successful in retaining and graduating those students at a rate that I think is acceptable for an institution like UCA.

“I don’t see it as a challenge; I see it as an opportunity. We have ideas as to what we can do to improve those numbers…we have a critical mass to work with, so we continue to work with those.

“On the academic side, I think there is opportunity there as well, because I think Provost Runge and President Courtway and others as well will tell you that we’ve got to beef up those numbers of faculty of color. I think there has to be improvement there as well.”

As a whole, Williams sees more positives than negatives with the work laid out before the office and is upbeat about the days ahead.

“Our focus has been on doing everything that we could to create an environment that allows our students to grow and develop and be everything that they could be, and that has been our focus for 18 years,” he said.

“It is a challenge, but we’re going to try to do everything we possibly can to make it work, and the president has assured us that we’ll have the resources necessary to do everything we can to help our institution be and become a 21st century institution in the truest sense of the word.”