After more than 25 years of working in higher education and supporting students at such schools as Saint Louis University, Vanderbilt University and Rice University, Mona Hicks comes to Stanford to begin her role as senior associate vice provost and dean of students.
In this Q&A, Hicks shares what drew her to Stanford University, the challenges facing student affairs and her approach to supporting students in distress.
What interested you in coming to Stanford?
The Carnegie Classification and beauty alone interested me in Stanford! More importantly is the opportunity to be in an environment where I can be in a community, lead and learn with exemplars from across the globe and work in the division of student affairs with the leadership of Susie Brubaker-Cole and the frames of “Our Most Important Work.”
In the brief time you’ve been here, how would you describe the Stanford student experience?
Well, I have not yet had the opportunity to meet as many students as I would like, but I would describe it as incredible and incredulous. It is incredible what the students have the opportunity to explore here and the resources that are available to them and how much administrators, faculty and staff care about their experience. It is incredulous what our students are grappling with on a local and international level and how it impacts them, let alone what a quarter system can do to and for a highly engaged student. It is a lot.
There are many initiatives under way to improve student life at Stanford. What are the ones that you will be involved in?
All of them. Where students are, I want to be! It will be a challenge, but I want to help create equitable, sustainable and accessible systems and structures that help our students find purpose and meaning. Those are the initiatives that I believe I should focus on, starting with the Dean of Students Office and the systems and policies that rest in this office.
You’ve held a number of student affairs positions nationwide. How has the role of student affairs evolved over the past several years, and what are some of the biggest challenges facing you and your colleagues?
I think it goes without saying that fostering equity and inclusion, mental health and well-being, and community and belonging are the biggest challenges and the areas of biggest impact both in and out of class activities and experiences. They are so interconnected. It is amazing when students are thriving and finding their meaning and purpose. And, on the reverse, when students aren’t thriving, it can impact so many others and cause so many disruptions when there are disconnections. Hurting people can hurt a lot of people. But we have the capacity to do so much good for one person, and each one of us can touch so many. Stanford students can reach the world.
Besides long-term strategic initiatives, you’ll also be involved in responding to students in need and in crisis. What is your approach when students are in distress?
I try to always remind students that they are loved, they matter and they are not alone. I also seek to apply a trauma-informed approach and help the student find a place of empowerment when dealing with difficult issues. It is not easy because students may want me to “fix it,” but I want to also balance what is in our locus of control – for myself, the student and the issue. It is tough. This can be a tough world, and it would be easier to just wrap everyone in bubble wrap and duct tape but that is not how they learn. “Adulting” is the art of being human.
What are you looking most forward to as you settle into your job?
I want to meet more students where they thrive, where they learn and not just when they are in distress or have a problem. I want to know students by name. I want the team that I serve to trust my leadership. And, I want to look back on this transition time and be confident that I stayed true to myself.