Emory campus building in fall
By John Baker Brown, Campus Life

Dona Yarbrough was recently named to the newly created position of assistant vice president of Campus Life and as a member of the division’s Executive Leadership Team (ELT).

In her new role, she retains previous responsibilities for the Office of the Student Ombudsperson and Learning and Innovation for Campus Life staff. She also takes on a number of existing Campus Life organizations – Social Justice Education, Barkley Forum, Center for Women, Racial and Cultural Engagement (RACE), and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Life.

In addition, Yarbrough is picking up an entirely new area of responsibility – leading Campus Life’s faculty and academic engagement and graduate/professional student initiatives. Although Campus Life and Academic Affairs have a long track record of partnering, such engagement has never enjoyed consistent oversight and support at the assistant VP level. Since joining Emory in 2008, Yarbrough has held several positions, including director of the Center for Women, associate vice provost of community and diversity, and special assistant to the provost. Earlier in her career, she was director of the LGBT Center and a part-time faculty member in women’s studies at Tufts University. During that time, she won the Modern Language Association’s coveted Crompton-Noll Award for Best Essay in LGBTQ Studies for an article published in American Literature.

Dona Yarbrough
Dona Yarbrough. Photo by Tina Chang.

Yarbrough’s teaching and scholarship have focused on: gender, race, and sexuality studies; early 20th century American literature; and diversity, inclusion, and equity in higher education. She received her PhD in English from the University of Virginia.

The new appointee spoke recently with ECL Connections about faculty and academic engagement and how these responsibilities relate to the new One Emory Strategic Framework.

Connections: Why was your AVP position – with responsibility for leading Campus Life’s faculty engagement – created? What are the goals and how do your responsibilities relate to the restructuring that placed Campus Life under the Office of the Provost?

Yarbrough: Emory’s new One Emory Strategic Framework calls for cultivating a thriving campus and a compelling student experience that make Emory an eminent academic community of choice. One Emory challenges us to break through the silos of “student affairs” and “academic affairs” in order to move to eminence in developing intellectually curious, ethically-minded, and purposeful students – whether they are undergrads or graduate and professional students. My position was created in part to strengthen Campus Life’s connections to the schools and faculty and help us reimagine our role in supporting the university’s academic mission.

Connections: What do you see as the first steps in this approach?

Yarbrough: We in Campus Life need to better support our faculty members in deepening their engagement with undergraduate student life. We are developing specific strategies now to build partnerships and programs to reach that goal. My role starts with connecting more Campus Life staff with faculty. We have to involve faculty at the ideation level, developing programs with them rather than simply inviting them into roles we have prescribed.

I serve on the Emory Undergraduate Project (Emory UP) Faculty Engagement with Student Life Committee, which is composed primarily of faculty. In addition, I’m meeting with groups of faculty members to “introduce” Campus Life as their partner in creating an engaged intellectual community for our students. Many of our faculty don’t know much about Campus Life or how we can help them connect with students outside the classroom. In addition, we will provide Campus Life staff with a better understanding of Academic Affairs and our role now as a division in the Office of the Provost.

Another of my responsibilities is to help us reimagine the role of Campus Life in supporting graduate and professional students, who constitute half of Emory’s student population. The first steps in that work are completing a series of listening sessions to learn more about students’ concerns and completing a benchmarking survey to determine how our peers are supporting grad students.

Connections: Have Campus Life and Academic Affairs partnered before?

Yarbrough: Absolutely. For many years, Campus Life has presented an annual Friends in Faculty Award to an Emory faculty member who has contributed significantly to Campus Life and enhanced the quality of students’ lives. The list of winners gives some indication of the many partnerships we’ve already established.

Another great partnership example is the ongoing Faculty in Residence Program, which has been around in various forms for 25 years. In its current form, the program enables faculty members to live in apartment-style quarters in student residence halls, plan events and activities for residents, and build an intellectual community with students, sometimes around a particular field, course, or theme. Through living in the same small community, students and faculty get to know each other as “real” people, and it’s these kinds of connections that lead to student success. This year, we have five faculty in the program.

Our goal is to build on these existing partnerships between Campus Life and Academic Affairs and develop new ones as well.

Connections: How does your professional background prepare you for this new assignment?

Yarbrough: Throughout my career, I have moved back and forth between academic affairs and student affairs, often holding hybrid positions. At different points in my career, I’ve worked primarily with students, primarily with faculty, and primarily with staff. I have often served as a bridge among those communities and the offices that serve them, so working on faculty engagement in student life and graduate student initiatives is well within my wheelhouse.

My interests and experiences are also very much aligned with the new offices I am supervising. I have an extensive background in diversity, equity, and inclusion work in higher ed. I’m equally interested in developing students’ critical thinking and communication skills and believe those skills are essential in creating just communities.

Connections: Would you like to add anything?

Yarbrough: I’m thrilled to be embarking on this new chapter in Emory’s evolution with so many lovely colleagues I respect and admire both in Campus Life and Academic Affairs. It’s incredible to me that a big part of my job is bringing amazing people together to create innovative initiatives and programs for Emory.

Learn more:

One Emory Strategic Framework

Campus Life staff and Emory faculty partners to enhance Faculty in Residence Program