Newly appointed dean of students seeks progress, equity at CPP

By Joshua Hernandez, May 11, 2021

After three years serving as UC Merced’s associate vice chancellor and dean of students, Jonathan Grady will be leaving UC Merced to join Cal Poly Pomona as the university’s new associate vice president and dean of students effective July 1.

Grady is an administrator with a deep appreciation for education and the uplifting effects it has on students, and his drive is exemplified throughout his career — not just as an administrator — but also as a student and a professional working in higher education. “I spent a lot of my life just really passionate about equity and justice and student success as a student that had a lot of struggles growing up,” Grady said.

Courtesy of Jonathan Grady

As a student from the Compton-Carson area, Grady grew to understand the value of knowledge through the people who supported and inspired him through school.

Grady’s most notable source of inspiration was author and poet Gloria Anzaldúa, who instilled in him a sense of honor and respect for the power of knowledge and a drive to uplift other students.

“Knowledge saved my life,” said Grady. “It opened so many doors and instilled in me so many possibilities. So for me, getting an education was life-changing.” In 2005, Grady earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from UCLA, then his master’s in Africana studies from Cornell University in 2008 and finally a doctorate in urban education and policy/concentration in anthropology from UCLA in 2012.

From there, Grady began to work as an instructor at Cornell University during the fall 2005 and spring 2006 terms, teaching Educational Innovations in the African Diaspora.

Later, Grady taught LGBT Issues in Education and the Law at UCLA, before finally teaching Research, Writing and Design at California State University, Dominguez Hills from 2011-2013.

An extension of topics he covered as both a student and an educator, one of Grady’s most noteworthy research projects focused on the lives of queer homeless youth, which sought to determine the best way to uplift and support them.

“They’re dealing with self-esteem issues and self-concept: ‘How do I see myself in relationship to others?’” Grady said. “And they’re dealing with basic needs concerns and just trying to find stable housing and food; they’re dealing with a lot.”

As an administrator, Grady applied his desire for equity by making progressive changes to UC Merced. He was instrumental in the establishment of UC Merced’s Affinity Spaces, which include the university’s Multicultural Arts Center, Black Student Resource Center and LGBTQ+ Pride Center, as well as the Valuing Black Lives Task Force and Black Research Fellowship Program.

Grady also reimagined the Students of Concern process, Student Response Team and Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities to better serve the university’s students.

“If something happens, it’s so important to me and to our campus that we respond with grace, that we respond with empathy,” Grady said. “So we really had to look at what does our response look like, and what should it look like moving forward.”

Before he optimized the Students of Concern process, the process relied on referring students to whichever department could best solve their issue. Today, students also have the option to fill out a Students of Concern form which is emailed directly to the dean of students office staff upon completion, making it easier to collect data and share their perspectives.

“I think for me it’s so important to really assess, to really listen to what are the needs and concerns of that community,” Grady said.

As for the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities, Grady said it used to operate as the Office of Student Conduct. The office’s name and operations were changed to reflect a shift away from punitive measures in favor of promoting personal accountability among students, staff and faculty, as well as greater awareness of their personal rights.

“For me, it was really important to say, instead of taking a very punitive approach, how do we take a more empowering and transformational approach as we think about conduct and the judicial process,” Grady said.

While these changes have made it easier for UC Merced students to get the support they need to thrive, Grady also said it will take about three months to adjust to the unique culture and social structure of Cal Poly Pomona and formulate ideas that will best serve the needs of the university’s students. ”For me, once I have a better understanding of what students feel in the larger community, then I’m able to then help the community come up with a plan moving forward,” Grady said. “Whether it’s to rename, whether it’s to elevate, whether it’s to create new initiatives, it really just depends in terms of the data.”

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