While Mark Ferne is out for a Semester at Sea, Karnell Black has stepped in to serve as acting dean of students during spring semester. With five years of work at Westminster under his belt, Black has contributed to the college in numerous ways due to his variety of positions, which include work at Student Involvement, Leadership and Orientation; the Counseling Center; the Diversity and Inclusion Center; Residence Life and Spiritual Life.
Black will be acting dean of students during the spring graduation ceremony, as well. His office is located in the Dean of Student’s Office in the Shaw Student Center.
Q: What was your first thought when you found out that you would be acting dean?
A: “I’m still going to get my sleep in,” ‘cause I am all about getting my seven to eight hours of sleep in every night. But to be honest, I think the first thing thought was, “This is going to be an awesome responsibility. I’m going to learn a lot. I’m going to learn a lot from folks around campus.” I also think I was really excited about the opportunity to create positive change in a role that I haven’t been able to be in until now.
Q: What do you want to implement or try to make happen this semester?
A: One of the things that I’m working on is working with the co-curricular directors for what’s called a co-curricular mapping tool for faculty, staff and students, so that they can really map their undergraduate experience of all the different options that exist for ways that they can get engaged to actually connect with their own needs. Also, for the student affairs area specifically, I am going to be leading our priorities for student engagement and student value within our division. Also, just wanting to create an awesome undergraduate experience for our students.
Q: What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far as acting dean?
A: My day is a lot of meetings, and so the other part of it is—when do I actually get time to do the stuff that I said I was actually going to do in the meetings? I feel like it’s being a student all over again at times because you go to class all day and then you have to go home and do homework. I think one of the difficulties, as well (and I’m learning to say a lot more) is sometimes I just have to say, “No,” which isn’t always the popular thing to say. But it’s about balancing all the things that are going on in the role.
Q: What surprised you most about the role of dean of students?
A: I think what has been surprising is that things get done quicker. I have reminded myself to remind people that I don’t need something until x, y, z. Folks would always get things to me in a very reasonable time or if I ask for something, folks would just do it, but now it seems more instantaneous. I think it goes to the role of the dean, too, where lots of things are time sensitive, and so folks know that if the dean is asking for something, they probably need it right away because it may impact some decisions. It may be impacting a student, and that’s information that’s needed.
Q: What does your day in and day out look like?
A: It’s like you’re running all day. Our students really help us run our office here, and one thing I’ve communicated to them is to please not schedule anything over my lunch unless you ask, because that’s the only time I will get in a day to grab a bite to eat or just sit and do nothing. Whether it’s a Monday or a Friday, if you were to look at my calendar, I’m on the go. I still do volunteer work while doing this job. I volunteer up at the University of Utah advising one of the fraternities. I meet with the students up there on a very regular basis, and so I’m still trying to maintain some of the things that I think are really important for me.
Q: Do you have any cool hobbies or talents to help take your mind off work?
A: I don’t have any, but one thing I do (and people probably notice), I like to shop. I don’t buy anything full price, and I still get good stuff. I’ll find a deal, somehow, some way. I go to the movies every week as my way of relaxing. Me and my partner go to the movies and then there are times when I go to the movies by myself because I actually enjoy going to the movies by myself. People think I’m an extrovert, but I’m not. I’m such an introvert. Even though my job requires me to be an extrovert, it takes a lot of energy to do that.
Q: What made you want to get involved with colleges, and why do you want to work with students?
A: When I was a freshman in college, I didn’t do so well. I failed pretty much all of my classes. I had a 1.67 [GPA] and I was like, “I’m much better than this.” I was top 10 in my class in high school and a smart kid. I remember to this day there were two people in my life at that time who were college administrators who said, “Karnell, what is your problem?” They were just being real with me. I remember those two made a huge impact in how I knew that I needed to do better. But, I think also part of it too for me was as a kid of color coming from Dallas growing up in the projects, it was about wanting to succeed. I realized that I had an obligation to share my passion and my excitement and my energy to other folks who may be having difficult times and even more specifically for students of color. I’m a first generation, as well, so I didn’t understand how to navigate college. I thought I was going to go to law school and I completely changed that after my first semester of being a freshman and said, “I want to work in higher education.”
Q: If you could tell students why they can come talk to you, what would you say?
A: At the end of the day, the dean of students is there as a person who’s going to create a safe environment for our students. And so, sometimes it is the conduct side of things, but for the most part, the dean is just reaching out and checking and trying to make sure folks have a great experience, make sure they’re safe, make sure that if there are things happening that we can advocate for them. My hope is that I’ve kind of changed that stigma about what it means to be dean and, at the end of the day, we care. That’s why we do this. We’re not doing it to get you in trouble. We care.