Photo courtesy of Paris Wicker.
To continue her education, Paris Wicker ‘08 is leaving her position as Associate Dean of Students for Student Transitions, Support and Persistence at Lawrence University to pursue her Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis as a full-time student at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Wicker will officially leave the position in August 2018, and Lawrence will be searching for someone to fill her position.
As an Associate Dean of Students, Wicker ‘08 focused on helping students transition into college life. Wicker focused on helping students transition to different stages of colleges with programs such as CORE for freshmen, the majors fair for sophomores and working with seniors to help them decide what to do after college. Her work with seniors “is mostly to celebrate the time they spent on campus,” said Wicker.
CORE and working with CORE Leaders has been one of Wicker’s favorite aspects of working at Lawrence, and emphasized that “it has a need, and not everyone is going to go – I understand that – but I think those who choose to partake really find it valuable.” Wicker has also enjoyed working with first generation students, and helping them figure out what they need to be successful.
Another component of Wicker’s work at Lawrence has been supporting students who are underrepresented on campus, such as first-generation students, low income students, military students and transfer students. “I look at each group specifically to see what they need, and act accordingly,” said Wicker.
After graduating from Lawrence with a Bachelor of Arts with majors in Music and French, Wicker was asked to work in admissions, where she worked for 7 years. Wicker worked both in general admissions for four years and as the Director of Conservatory Admissions for three years. “When I was in admissions, I loved audition days,” said Wicker. “I had the opportunity to help students feel at ease on a day that is so anxiety-ridden.”
“I found it difficult to admit students to Lawrence and then never see them again,” said Wicker about why she wanted to move to a job where she would be more present in the lives of students. Wicker became an Associate Dean of Students three years ago because “in the end, it’s about supporting students and families through college,” said Wicker.
Wicker has served as the advisor for the Black Student Union for about seven years. “It’s been a privilege” said Wicker, “just seeing that organization grow and change and advocate on campus. I’m really proud of what our students have done, and honored that I can be a part of that journey.”
While Wicker has enjoyed much of her time at Lawrence, there have been difficulties working and being a student here. “It’s bittersweet,” said Wicker. Some of the things that Wicker has found to be the most challenging for her have been the lack of communication between students and administrators, and the problems students of color face on this campus.
“The administration and the students, we want the same things,” said Wicker, “but somehow we don’t seem to see that in each other.” Seeing students have demands that align with what the administration is working towards, but not be aware of this has frustrated Wicker, who thinks that communication between students and the administration could be significantly improved.
The difficulties students of color experience at Lawrence have been difficult for Wicker, who experienced the same difficulties when she was a student here. Street harassment on College Avenue, tokenism and microaggressions make time at Lawrence challenging for students of color.
Wicker stated that “Lawrence has acknowledged that this is an issue” and is working towards solutions, but has not figured out what to do yet. “In the meantime students are hurting,” said Wicker. “In the meantime students are leaving, they’re transferring, they’re not having the greatest of experiences at Lawrence.”
Helping students of color with the challenges they face on campus was one of things that motivated Wicker to get her Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. Also, working in admissions and student life were what made Wicker realize that she wanted to work in higher education. Wicker’s goal is to gain the research and experience that will allow her to be at the executive level in higher education and let her have a say in decision making.
Wicker hopes to study mental health in students of color, and also trauma in higher education. Having a master’s degree in counseling, along with her interest in the mental health and wellbeing of students, inspired her to go into this area of research.
She wants to study how campuses deal with trauma, how staff and administration are trained to deal with trauma. “Particularly how it relates to retention,” said Wicker, “are institutions doing or knowing what they need to know and do in order to support students”.
“I initially applied part time,” said Wicker. “My goal was to stay at Lawrence.” However, the University of Wisconsin-Madison offered Wicker a full ride for five years to research race and education which required her to be a full-time student. “I realized that this was a great opportunity for me to go and do the research that will eventually hopefully help students like the students here at Lawrence.”