The third finalist to lead Kansas University’s Office of Multicultural Affairs told an audience Friday that social justice is one of her guiding principles.
“Social justice is how I live my life,” said Precious Porras, who has been interim director of the OMA since May. “It is a way of life for me ... it’s not just a job.”
Porras was the last of three finalists to give public presentations this week on the topic “Strategic Leadership at KU’s Office of Multicultural Affairs.” About 55 people attended her talk at the Kansas Union.
Porras, who said she identifies as biracial, said she was a low-income, first-generation college student of color.
Targeted programs — specifically the federal Upward Bound program — and dedicated mentors helped her succeed, Porras said.
“It also taught me that I want to give back,” she said. “My goal in life became ‘I’m going to pay it forward,’ and that’s why I do the work that I do.”
Porras got her bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology from Northwest Missouri State University and a master’s degree in counselor education from Emporia State University, according to KU. She expects to complete a doctorate in educational leadership and policy studies from KU in 2016.
Porras has been with OMA since 2005, first as a Hawk Link Retention Specialist and most recently — prior to being named interim director — as associate director of diversity education and social justice programs. She has taught multiple academic courses during her time with OMA and been involved with various multicultural organizations at KU.
Porras described her plan for OMA, if hired as director, as “cultivating equity through inclusive leadership.”
She said that in her time with OMA the office had not had a strategic plan, and she presented her proposal for such a plan on Friday.
“How can we know where we’re going if we don’t have a map?” she said.
Some highlights included expanding KU’s Hawk Link program for first year students into a two-year program, within the next four years.
She said students’ academic skills need ongoing work — “We know they don’t get it still after the first year,” she said — and that they also need counseling about career and graduate school options, plus guidance about how to access financial aid to stay in school through graduation.
For the coming two years, Porras’ suggestions included establishing a development and “self care” program for OMA staff, creating a cultural competency coordinator position, increasing the visibility and branding of OMA, collaborating with the Center for Teaching Excellence and Curriculum Review, and enhancing KU’s relationship with Haskell Indian Nations University.
Overall, Porras said, she wants to ensure marginalized students know “you matter.”
She emphasized the importance of openly discussing changing demographics, “social inequities,” oppression, privilege and power.
The next OMA director will replace Blane Harding, who left KU in May.
Finalists Festus Addo-Yobo, director of Black Programs in the division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management at New Mexico State University, and Andre Brown, program director of TRiO Student Support Services at Arizona State University, gave presentations earlier this week.
The salary range for the new director will be $83,000 to $133,000, according to provost office spokeswoman Jill Hummels.
The OMA’s total budget is more than $557,000 annually, according to KU’s operating budget for fiscal year 2016.
Associate professor of journalism Jerry Crawford is chairman of the OMA director search committee, which he said was formed and began work in August. More information on the job description, the candidates and the search committee can be found online at provost.ku.edu/director-office-multicultural-affairs.