Lamar Hylton, who has a doctorate in Student Affairs and Higher Education from Morgan State University, was recently appointed Vice President for Student Affairs at Kent State. KentWired sat down with him to talk about his new position and plans for the future.
Hylton’s academic achievements include: a Bachelor of Arts in Vocal Music Performance; a Master of Education in College Student Personnel, and a doctorate in Student Affairs and Higher Education.
Q: What does the position of Vice President for Student Affairs entail?
A: So really it is helping contribute to the academic success of students throughout the classroom experiences. So we are definitely contributors to student learning and student development through all of the programs and services and initiatives that the Division of Student Affairs has under its purview. I've had the great fortune of leading that division and providing vision for how we would like to integrate into the university experience. And then working with a really great set of staff, colleagues, faculty colleagues, and most especially, students on shaping an environment outside of the classroom that meets the needs of students, helps them to be academically successful and develops them as they wish to be developed.
Q: What is your role as vice president?
A: So, my role is really to ... give direction to what the outside of the classroom—or as we call it, co-curricular experience—will look like for students at Kent State. I serve as a member of the President's Cabinet, so that responsibility is really working with other members of thePresident's leadership team to make sure that we have a university experience that we can be proud of, helping the president be thoughtful about matters that pertain to students directly and indirectly.
Q: Since you were interim vice president before you were permanent vice president, how was the transition for you?
A: Well, that’s an interesting question. I can say that it was smooth in that I had already had a bird's-eye view into what the role of the vice president really entailed during my time as an interim. Also during my time as an interim, though, came the pandemic. So, even in my transition from interim to permanent, it still was very challenging because we were doing that in the context of a pandemic and helping the university to respond to that. Particularly, what does that mean for the student experience? And so I can't say that it was necessarily easy, but I had learned a lot in my role as interim vice president that set me up nicely to assume the role on a permanent basis.
Q: What challenges did you face as a result of the pandemic? Did you have trouble communicating with your team, or was it difficult to reach out to students.
A: It's a lot of that and more. We aren't able to provide programs and services and experiences for students in the ways that we have been accustomed to doing. So, no large gatherings and events, no living in the residence halls, no eating in the dining halls. So what does that mean, and how do we continue again? Everything that we do really is in support of an experience that students can be proud of. And so how do we continue to do that safely with the health and safety and well-being of our entire university community at the forefront of our minds? How do we do that in a way that is fiscally responsible? So, there's a lot of budgetary and financial implications of the pandemic on our university's finances, and certainly that affects us in a very direct way. So, how do we do that with the financial resources that we have [and] the people resources that we have? And then how do we do that still locked in arms with our student body even though our student body, for the majority, are not on our campus any longer because of the pandemic? So, it's very complex. I'm probably even simplifying it maybe even too much, but it's ... a very complex issue, or set of issues that we have to work through, and work out and work around to, again, ensure that students remain first in our work and that that you all as students get the the experience you deserve.
Q: It might be a little too early to say, but have you begun to find any sort of solutions to these issues yet?
A: It is a little too early to say. Right now we're engaged in a lot of discussions about what the fall looks like, reopening and the fall and all that comes with it from an academic and co-curricular standpoint. And we definitely are right at the beginning of those conversations. And we don't really have all of the answers because the pandemic has left us with a lot of unknowns, a lot of uncertainties that cause us not to really be able to fully respond to questions that may be percolating in our mind because we just don't know how it's going to look between now and fall. So, I imagine that once we're in the swing of the fall, that more of those answers will come to light, that there would be more concrete ways that we know, ‘OK, this worked, this didn't work, we need to tweak here, we need to change there.’ We do have to make some decisions well before the fall because those decisions impact how the fall experience will be delivered for students. And that, again, means inside of the classroom and outside. So, we're making those decisions with the best information that we have available at our fingertips right now, and also making space that those decisions may need to be tweaked if new information emerges between now and the fall semester.
Q: How have you been communicating with other departments and the rest of your team since you can’t meet face to face?
A: We've been using a lot of Microsoft Teams, some Zoom calls [and] email has obviously not stopped. So, we've found ways to continue getting work done and continue being able to communicate with one another even though we haven't had that physical face-to-face kind of experience. The work still continues, and we have definitely leveraged and leaned on technology quite a bit to help us do that.
Q: Has your prior work experience at Kent State, the University of Minnesota and the University of North Carolina prepared you for this position in any way?
A: Absolutely. I've been in student affairs almost 14 years now, and throughout that time, have worked in a lot of different functional areas. I started in residence life, I worked in Greek life, I worked in student activities, I worked in multicultural programs. All of those experiences really have contributed to my ability to serve. And now, because of many of those functions I now oversee as the vice president. So, I'm well aware of that work because I, at one time, was serving in those roles. I think the other thing that helps me out is my educational background. I have a master's degree and a doctorate in student affairs in higher education, which is the academic study of the field that I'm in. So I've had the best of both worlds, and I think that both of those really positioned me nicely to be able to contribute to this Division of Student Affairs into our overall university in terms of student services.
Q: What specifically did you learn that helped set you up for this position?
A: Well, there's really no difference in what I'm doing between interim and permanent, the job is still very much the same, but this was my first vice presidency. So, as the interim I got a taste of what it truly meant to be a vice president in terms of providing leadership to a division, matters pertaining to our division and institutional finances, supervision of staff across many, many units, working on the President's Cabinet and with the president directly on shaping that university experience that Kent State can be proud of. So, all of that happened during my time as interim, and I really feel like I learned how to do that in a way that allowed me ... to assume the job on a permanent basis. And I'm continuing to learn what that means. I was a dean of students before serving as vice president and there are some really distinctly different elements of those two roles. So navigating out of being Dr. Hylton, the dean, and navigating toward being Dr. Hylton, the vice president.
Q: What plans do you have as vice president?
A: I want to continue to shape a world class experience for our students. I want to continue to mentor and to be in community with students, and in partnership with students around that experience. I also want to make sure that we are a student ready university. So, not only does that mean for my own division but that's across the university and making sure that the university's systems and policies and processes speak to the needs of our students and the ways in which our students desire to encounter their experience at Kent State. We have a number of different units in the Division of Student Affairs. They're everything from where you eat, to where you live, to where you recreate, to where you get your health taken care of, etc. So, making sure all of those units are working collaboratively and cohesively to, again, effect a very significant positive change and the way we engage our students.
Q: You mentioned that you really want to build a community with students. So, come fall semester when hopefully coronavirus is less of a factor, what steps do you plan on taking to accomplish that?
A: Well, I would hope to be able to still do some of the very same things that I've done throughout my time here at Kent State and that is to be where students are. So, whether that is going to student organization meetings, or hosting various programs or experiences for students, or going to new member presentations for our Integrated Greek Council chapters of our fraternities and sororities, or going to some of our student involvement activities, or being in community with our veteran students, or if it's simply just hanging out in the Student Center and catching casual conversations in The Hub or in The Patio. I hope to continue to do that. I have found that not only does that help me do my work, but that fills me personally, that fulfills me, that drives me, that motivates me. I get my energy from you all as students, and that's exactly the reason why I'm in the role that I'm in because I believe that that's where I'm called to be. So, I hope that we can find ways to make that happen. I'm not sure if it'll be the fall or if it'll be the spring or when it's going to be, but I'm hoping to one day be able to continue to do that. And if we still have to be quasi in a remote environment, or a more technologically savvy environment, I'm definitely active on social media. That's another way I connect with students. I allow students to follow me on Instagram and Twitter, and I like to engage with students on those platforms as well. So, it doesn't always have to be face-to-face. I think you can build community in a variety of different ways with our students.
Q: What are you looking forward to most about accomplishing as vice president?
A: I think that I am looking forward to really contributing to Kent State's desire to be a student ready university. I truly believe that the president has at the core of his heart and at the core of his vision that Kent State University will be an accessible, equitable, engaging environment for students, and I look forward to my role supporting that vision that whenever it is that I'm not the Vice President of Student Affairs at Kent State any longer, I can look back on this time and see where I have made direct contribution to achieving the vision of becoming student ready.
Q: Is there anything else that you want students to know?
A: I just want to reiterate how valuable I think the student experience at Kent State is and how excited I am to be in a role that can help shape that experience for students. So, I'm looking forward to positive times and challenges ahead that await us, and hopeful that I can continue to serve Kent State well, and serve our students in the ways that they desire to be served.
Zaria Johnson is a reporter. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.