Although Marian Higgins is leading the charge as Robinson’s first-ever associate dean for culture, equity & inclusion, her success hinges on getting the entire college community involved. The overarching purpose of her role is to create a safe and welcoming environment for all Robinson constituents—and that’s a major team effort.
“I see this as everyone’s work,” Higgins said. “If only I focused on creating a culture that is equitable and inclusive, I wouldn’t get very far because of the interactions that occur across units within the college and beyond. We all need to be on the same page and share that priority.”
Before joining Robinson, Higgins spent almost 18 years at the University of Georgia (UGA). She started at UGA’s Career Center, initially as a career consultant for students in the Grady College of Journalism & Mass Communication and then as associate director of diversity programs. At the time, to find a university career center with a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) focus anywhere in the country was rare. Higgins developed a DEI strategic plan, consulted with employers interested in hiring a diverse workforce, and established a DEI committee that functioned as a liaison to campus offices serving underrepresented communities. Because Higgins’ position was a bit of an anomaly, her work became a national model for other career centers to emulate.
Higgins poured her heart into UGA’s Career Center for more than 12 years before joining its Mary Frances Early College of Education as a clinical assistant professor, eventually becoming the college’s interim associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion in August 2020; the title was made official in January 2021. In early 2022, the opportunity to apply for a similar position at Robinson unfolded: to build DEI programming practically from scratch, this time in an urban setting with demographics much different from the student population at UGA.
“I get excited when I think about Robinson’s innovative culture and the possibilities for solving problems and creating solutions,” Higgins said. “I also feel humbled by the magnitude of work to be done.”
When it comes to the work ahead of her, Higgins has a blank slate. Her first goal is to cultivate relationships across campus and within the community, ultimately generating trust and regard as a resource. That will set her up to carry out the recommendations laid out by Robinson’s Inclusion & Equity Task Force, including student, faculty and staff services as well as recruitment and hiring initiatives.
Higgins will gauge her success with a combination of quantitative and qualitative measures. She certainly will look at hard numbers reflecting an increase in diversity among students, faculty and staff. Of equal importance, when colleagues or college constituents share changes they made because of a conversation shared with her, Higgins also will consider those big wins.
“In the long run, I hope to create a diversity annual report to highlight our progress, demonstrate our commitment, and add a layer of accountability,” she said. “To me, success isn’t always what’s completed but what’s in progress.”