Diversity Q&A with FAU President John Kelly and Dr. Andrea Guzman Oliver

John Kelly and Dr. Andrea Guzman Oliver discussed social justice and changes being made at FAU.


John Kelly became the seventh president in Florida Atlantic history on Jan. 17, 2014. Photo by: Max Jackson

Joseph Acosta, Managing Editor

Since the death of George Floyd and the protests that followed, many businesses and institutions are looking internally at issues regarding diversity and making efforts to change. At FAU, President John Kelly and Associate Vice President of Outreach and Diversity Dr. Andrea Guzman Oliver have been working to improve the diversity of FAU’s campus. Both Dr. Kelly and Dr. Oliver joined me via WebEx.


Joseph Acosta (JA): Ok, so my first question is what your reactions were to the death of George Floyd and the protests and riots that followed.


Dr. John Kelly (JK): Shock and disgust. I mean this is just about as gruesome of a scene you can have to ever see on television or elsewhere. The begging for help, being ignored, those kinds of things when a person is in distress, I don’t think anybody could have watched that without a gut check of your own thoughts of how ridiculous the overuse of force was.


Dr. Andrea Guzman Oliver (AG): I think I share that sentiment, it was very disturbing for me to watch. I grew up in the city of Detroit, and as a biracial mother of biracial children and married to a Black male, it was tough to see. I grew up in a bad part of the city where we knew that a call to the police would be harmful, rather than helpful. I think my initial response was, “I can’t believe this is happening yet again,” because it isn’t the first case, it hasn’t been the last case and we continue to see it. 


As an educator, I feel that we have an opportunity and an obligation to really take a proactive approach in educating students, training them to be advocates of civil rights, and advocates of social justice. So I think as I put my personal sentiments aside, the next thought was what can we do to support our students and to truly help them self advocate and seek reform.


JA: What are you both going to do to ensure that what has happened Minneapolis or any other violence against black students or black people doesn’t happen at FAU?


JK: One of the great advantages we have here-I don’t know if you’ve had an opportunity to get to know our police chief at FAU, Sean Brammer, he’s just a world-class person, I mean he’s first-class every way that you look at him as a dad, as a leader, as a person who connects and has a sincere interest in our students. And so I think he’s done a great job. 


I’ve gotten to know him really well since he’s been here. I know the things that he does that a policeman doesn’t have to do. He has coffee with the students so that he understands things that the students have on their mind. He answers questions without concern of what the students are asking-he’s always happy to answer questions. He told me that–I was asking him some of the things that he did earlier this month–and I didn’t realize that they actually put students in police cars to ride around campus with him, and just to see what it looks like in the middle of the night. 


So I think he helps people see a little bit differently about what a policeman is. I also think that he has a deep heart. I see the things that he does to help his own people be trained well. I’ve gotten to know quite a few of them. I know that he is not going to be tolerant of any kind of issue that is abusive toward a student or is confrontational toward a student unless there’s a belligerent act and you have to handle things more aggressively, but Shawn I believe is kind of a dream, police chief.


AG: I’d also say, Joseph, that you know Dr. Kelly can be very modest. But in the time that I’ve known him, diversity, justice, and human rights have always been at the forefront of our institution. And in fact, if you look at the strategic plan, within the first 60 days that he was here at FAU he wrote that into the strategic plan. 


A platform for diversity, and a very separate platform for peace, justice and human rights. And so one of the initial steps that we’re working on is truly taking those two platforms so that they’re working hand in hand, so that we can expand on not just building cross-cultural competency at the institution, but that we’re also being very intentional in our focus on professional development for faculty and staff and development for students, especially our student leaders that involve social justice that involves equity and inclusion. 


So, the utilization of those two platforms sort of hand in hand is going to really transform the type of diversity work that we’re already doing at FAU. I’m sure that you’re very much aware of some of the open dialogues that have already started, both on the students end as well as on faculty and staff and so one our second initiatives is to continue this dialogue and ensure that it doesn’t die with the protests, that we continue to seek ways to make the environment at FAU even more inclusive for our students. 


Any complaint that is followed is investigated. You can file complaints using the Maxient form, or the Dean of Students Office has an open door policy-students know they can come to our office at any given point if they have a concern. So I think being very proactive in education and professional development, as well as making sure that there are avenues that students can report any type of incident is critical for us.


JA: So my next question regards an email you sent to students on June 19 Dr. Kelly. In it, you kind of talk about some immediate measures that FAU is going to do to kind of address systemic racism and diversity at FAU. I want to know if you could go into detail on some of those initiatives that FAU has that you have written about.


JK: Yeah, I think it’s too easy for us to say, “Let’s just talk.” It’s much more beneficial if we have real dialogue and we’re talking with people about developing, what is your strategy, your personal strategy so that you’re successful, not just across the board but really to think individually with people, what are the ways in which you can build your potential to a place where you have extraordinary demand for your skillset, that’s a big part of what we need to do, more of that dialogue, that personal touch, purposeful intention of helping the students of diverse backgrounds, navigate through the complexities that may not be evident on the surface.


I’m sure you’ve probably felt them in your life where you wanted to do something and there’s something in the way and nobody would tell you what is in the way. Well, a strong mentor should be able to help you not just clear the way. But even point you in the direction and lead you through the strategy to get you to that successful place. 


I literally would not be sitting here today if it wasn’t for a great mentor. No clue, no money, nothing, and some guy saw one potential in me that I never saw in myself and none of my family members ever saw in me. But I think that’s the kind of thing where we have to be more engaged. 


More purpose, not just seeing how things go. But making things happen.


This is the first part of the “Question & Answer” series with Kelly and Oliver. Other installments can be found here at the University Press. 


Joseph Acosta is the Managing Editor at the FAU University Press. For information regarding this story or any other stories, email him at [email protected], or tweet him @acosta32_jp.