Reflecting back to move forward

Reflecting back to move forward

Callan meets with students to discuss plans for the summer to prepare for the upcoming academic year.
By Mike Piacentino

Callan meets with students to discuss plans for the summer to prepare for the upcoming academic year.

Reflecting back to move forward

By Mike Piacentino
In her new role as Executive Director of Student Life, Renée Dickens Callan plans to incorporate social justice education into student involvement by expanding programming and exploring new partnerships

Reflecting back on when she first arrived at the University of Miami in 1993, Renée Dickens Callan says that campus life for UM students hasn’t changed all that much.

"Students are still highly engaged in on-campus programs, student organizations, and volunteer service with the local community,” said Callan, whose two children recently graduated from UM. "However, technology, namely social media, has transformed the way students interact with one another. Although it can enrich a student’s knowledge and understanding, social media tends to complicate establishing one-on-one relationships with others.”

That is why Callan has plans to develop new partnerships to expand opportunities for meaningful dialogue among students when she steps into her new role as executive director of student life on June 1. Prior to this new position, Callan served in a variety of roles within the Division of Student Affairs, including most recently as director of Multicultural Student Affairs.

“Dr. Callan has been a member of our University of Miami family for 25 years, and I look forward to working closely with her in her new role,” said Patricia A. Whitely, vice president for student affairs. “I am confident that her experience and leadership will continue to enhance our student life experience at the University.”

Callan is a member of the executive planning committee for campus-wide Multifaith Initiatives and co-creator and co-instructor of the University’s new Intergroup Dialogue courses. These initiatives have introduced more students to social justice education and the idea of dialogue across differences, both of which have contributed to students’ growth and development.

“Dr. Callan challenged and empowered me to realize the power of my own voice as both a student and young woman of color,” said Amber Tavakoly, a rising UM senior and a member of several programming boards housed within MSA. “Leading by example, Dr. Callan taught me that engaging in dialogue is the ultimate tool when reaching across boundaries and differences.”

An umbrella unit within the Division of Student Affairs, Student Life is comprised of the Butler Center for Service and Leadership, the LGBTQ Student Center, Multicultural Student Affairs, Orientation and Commuter Student Involvement, and Student Activities and Student Organizations. Each of these offices works independently as well as collaboratively to support student success by providing a multitude of programs and services designed to enrich the college experience.

“This collaborative approach allows us to provide opportunities for members of the university community to expand their knowledge and understanding of important issues,” said Callan, who earned her master’s degree in higher education from the University of Vermont and doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Miami.

In addition to working within the Division of Student Affairs to accomplish these goals, Callan, who has also taught a masters-level course on student development theory in the School of Education and Human Development, plans to reach out to faculty and other campus partners to contribute their own research and perspectives to enhance student programming.

“It is important to expand the conversation and determine how we can connect with others who may not think these issues relate to them,” she said. “We cannot continue to engage only with those who already have similar perspectives. It will take academic units and other campus partners working together to create opportunities for more meaningful engagement for students.”