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One year in, Dean of Students looks ahead at initiatives

By Jensica Isiminger
Contributing Writer

As he wraps up his first year as KU’s Dean of Students, Donovan McCargo plans to work collaboratively with students to increase retention. Having earned the respect of many KU students and coworkers, he said he wants to work to create a more unified campus.

To increase student retention, McCargo wants to improve race relations, engage students, foster a sense of belonging and minimize run-around.

“These issues can’t be resolved with one person saying one thing,” McCargo said. “It takes many people being willing to say ‘I’m going to do my part to help people feel safe.’”

McCargo said one of the reasons he came to KU in the fall of 2017 was because he believed in President Kenneth Hawkinson’s vision of a unified campus. Another reason, he said, was that he had become ingrained in the Community College of Philadelphia’s (CCP) culture and felt that becoming the Dean at KU presented a unique opportunity.

McCargo was the Dean of Students at CCP from 2014-2017 and worked at Rowan University for eight years prior. He replaced Bob Watrous, who retired after thirty years as Associate Provost and Dean of Students.

McCargo feels his vision of unity, which he expressed at KU’s Unity Day on Aug. 31, 2017, has not been fulfilled. One of his solutions is to dialogue about matters of difference such as race, sexuality and identity.

He is trying to minimize sexual assault at  KU, specifically by having conversations about respect. “We spend a lot of time talking about prevention, but before prevention comes respect,” said McCargo.

In another attempt to unify the campus, McCargo became the chair of KU’s Bias Response Task Force, which creates protocols and resources for students to report incidents of bias on campus.

His task of finding ways to respond to on-campus incidents is challenging, particularly when individual students take action against groups, according to Susan Mangold, KU’s Student Assistance Coordinator.

McCargo’s remaining goals are to create scholarship opportunities for students who are experiencing financial hardship, provide resources for the food insecure and more effectively respond to concerns that impact students’ experiences.

He is also focusing on improving KU’s counseling and mental health strategies. Although McCargo is not officially a counselor, he said he is willing to talk to students if they have questions, feel disconnected, or want spiritual support.

“He is very welcoming. When I go to him, I know that I will find an answer,” said KU junior Marie Joseph, who is president of the group Social Networking and Peace (SNAP).

In early April, McCargo became the co-advisor of SNAP, an on-campus organization that seeks to connect KU students.

“The principle behind getting students who are less involved on campus, pulling them in, and creating a sense of belonging—I felt in my spirit it was the right thing to do,” said McCargo about his decision to co-advise SNAP.

According to SGB secretary and KU senior Kayla Hudak, McCargo has advised KU’s SGB since last fall, providing counsel, advice and technical support. He attends weekly SGB general and e-board meetings.

“He is a genuine leader that has offered fresh and realistic perspectives to the field of student affairs,” Hudak said.

While his duty is first and foremost to KU students, McCargo also inspires his coworkers.

“He’s brought an already unified staff together more,” Mangold said. “And he is so genuine and easy to approach. Students gravitate to him.”

McCargo said his favorite part of working at KU is the students.

“I love our students,” he said. “They are smart, dedicated, passionate, hard-working—they care for one another. Our students rally around each other, and that motivates me to go the extra mile.”

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