Like many of his colleagues, Andrew Williams, University of Minnesota Rochester’s (UMR) new Assistant Vice Chancellor for Student Success, Engagement and Equity, has a passion for higher education. Previous to UMR, he worked as the executive director at Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs (HECUA) in the Twin Cities. HECUA represents a consortium of 20 schools from around the country and provides college undergraduate students with off-campus study opportunities internationally and in the US, with a specific focus on guiding students to understanding and participating in transnational, intergenerational studies for social justice. Along with this passion for higher education is a deep desire and commitment to diversity, equity and social justice.
A spark was lit inside Williams from a young age to work against injustice and towards equity for all. Growing up in Indianapolis, Ind., his grandparents were his primary caretakers. His grandfather was originally from Pulaski, Tenn., the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan. Every Labor Day during his childhood, Williams’ grandfather would take him back to Pulaski and show him the tree where Williams’ great-grandfather was lynched by the KKK.
“It was early exposure to the injustices that opened my eyes, seeing the real flight of black people from racial terrorism,” Williams said. “That sense of being able to get proximate to the trauma experienced by my grandfather and his family planted seeds in me to make changes.”
When it was time to attend college, Williams chose Earlham College, a Quaker, liberal-arts institution. As a first-generation college student, the college experience was new for him, but attending Earlham watered the seed that was planted many years earlier and grew his desire to participate and learn more about social justice.
Williams has spent a great amount of his career as a higher education professional within the classroom as a faculty member and in higher education administration. Through this, he has developed and sustained a long-standing deep commitment of working to advance diversity and equity in higher education.
“I’ve seen many students of color and first-generation college students come in with a dream to be doctors and nurses but then give up on that dream,” Williams said. “Unfortunately, not all students who want to be in health care have the preparation. But I’ve always believed that there are students who want to succeed but can’t because our institutions don’t have the support to help them succeed. That is why UMR is so appealing to me.”
He first heard of UMR because of its success in advancing equitable outcomes for its students.
“To have an institution like UMR come on my radar and to learn of its deep commitment to diversity and access really attracted me,” Williams said, noting how impressed he is with the ethic of care faculty and staff have for the students. “I’m excited to come and learn from the good work being done here and bring my experience in continuing to advance the front.”
Likewise, UMR is excited about the vast experience and knowledge Williams brings with him.
“Andrew Williams provides such a rich, deep set of experiences and background,” said Jeffrey Ratliff-Crain, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Innovation. “He brings a wealth of experience in international education and student affairs leadership. In typical UMR fashion, and a testament to being a great fit, Andrew has taken a non-linear path to get here and we'll be all the better for it. We're very excited to have him as part of the team.”
With innovation at the forefront of its practices, UMR strives to be an institution where underrepresented students are just as successful as their peers. Williams looks forward to being at an institution where he won’t have to argue for impact in practices but where he will be among colleagues who seek to meet the changing needs of students.