Kansas University’s Office of Multicultural Affairs has hired a permanent director, who sees the present as a prime opportunity to start a new chapter as the head of the office.
Precious Porras, who has been interim director of the office since May, will be hired on a permanent basis, KU announced Tuesday. The appointment follows a fall semester at KU that saw an emotionally charged town hall forum on race and demands by students for diversity improvement.
“The students have opened the conversation,” said Porras, who officially begins Jan. 4 in her new role. “I think now the campus is really ready to have sustained conversation around these issues. I can help continue the conversation.”
KU’s Office of Multicultural Affairs, housed at the Sabatini Multicultural Resource Center, provides support services for current and prospective students from under-represented populations, plus diversity education programs for everyone in the KU community.
Porras said the past semester spurred a big uptick in requests for that.
“We’ve had a barrage of requests for training,” she said. “We have four or five trainings lined up for as soon as we return in January.”
Porras, 35, is originally from St. Joseph, Mo., and now lives in Lawrence with her husband, she said. She is biracial — black and white, she said — and herself was a first-generation college student from a low-income family.
That experience inspires what she does now, Porras said.
“For me, doing student affairs work is very personal because I had amazing mentors,” she said. “I am where I am today because of their time and commitment to me. So the opportunity to pay that back, and working with students, is why I do this work.”
During her time in college and at KU, Porras said she developed her “social justice conscience,” which also drives her to identify barriers students face and to use her voice to eliminate them.
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 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.
As director of the OMA, Porras said one major goal is to develop a five-year strategic plan for the office that will align with goals laid out in KU’s overarching Bold Aspirations strategic plan, so “we have a map to get us where we want to go as an office.”
She wants to collaborate with academic units and add more staff positions, she said. She hopes to gain some additional money to do so through private money, and has begun exploring the possibility of a fund through KU Endowment.
Making concrete improvements to campus diversity and cultural competency faces challenges, many stemming from outside the university setting. Increasing student and faculty diversity and improving retention rates for students of color is something KU — like many other schools — has grappled with for years.
Porras said she realizes the OMA has a difficult task but believes she can help make progress.
“It is doable,” she said. “But social justice is a process and a goal, and something that’s going to take a long time.”
Nate Thomas, vice provost for dversity and equity, said Porras has been a “strong contributor” to campus discussions and initiatives.
“She has a proven track record of leading students and educating the campus about issues of social justice, inclusion, equity and more,” Thomas said, in a news release from KU. “I know she possesses the vision and drive that will allow KU — and our students — to advance important conversations.”
The previous OMA director, Blane Harding, left KU in May. Three finalists for the job, including Porras, gave presentations on campus in late November and early December.
The salary range for the new director will be $83,000 to $133,000, the KU provost’s office previously said. The OMA’s total budget is more than $557,000 annually, according to KU’s operating budget for fiscal year 2016.