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Seattle University


Q&A with Alvin Sturdivant

Written by Mike Thee
February 17, 2011

Alvin Sturdivant joined the university in August as assistant vice president for Student Development. Sturdivant has more than a decade of experience as an administrator. Prior to arriving at SU, he was director of Housing and Residence Life at sister Jesuit school Saint Louis University. He previously served for five years as the associate director of residential life and as a faculty member in the Higher Education Student Affairs Administration program at the University of Vermont, where he completed his doctoral studies in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies.

“(Sturdivant) has worked extensively in the area of diversity and social justice, devoting considerable attention to creating safe spaces that allow for the full participation of all students in the campus environment,” Vice President for Student Development Jake Diaz wrote in announcing Sturdivant’s arrival. “His role as a teacher, advisor, and an administrator have enabled him to understand higher education and student affairs from a broad perspective.”

Sturdivant recently was interviewed by The Commons.

The Commons: Can you talk a little bit about your role in Student Development?

Alvin Sturdivant: I provide direct oversight and strategic leadership for the following areas: Counseling and Psychological Services, International Student Center, Office of Wellness and Health Promotion, Recreational Sports and the Student Health Center. In my role, I’m responsible for developing a comprehensive strategy for health and wellness for the campus, serving as a case manager for students of concern, developing, reviewing and redrafting policy, and working with students, parents, faculty and staff to address issues impacting the ability of our students to be successful at SU.

The Commons:  Why’d you decide to come to Seattle University?

AS:  In addition to career advancement, SU provided an opportunity to continue working in Jesuit higher education which I find a very natural fit with my work in student development with its focus on holistic development, social justice, service, reflection and commitment to engaged learning. Coming to SU also provided the opportunity to reconnect with colleagues I’d worked with at other universities or through professional affiliations. Probably the most exciting aspect of the opportunity at SU, was the chance to diversify my portfolio and work in areas for which I have a great deal of passion. There’s something about assisting students through crisis and difficulty that resonates with me. And I certainly have a passion for engaging international students wholly in the U.S. college experience. Honestly, the position here at SU seemed a perfect fit.

The Commons:  Now that you’ve been here for about a half a year, what have your impressions of the university been so far?

AS:  I’ve been quite impressed with SU thus far. I’ve had the opportunity to meet a lot of students, faculty and staff, and I’ve been struck by the passion of the student body, particularly as it relates to engaging with the local community and addressing issues beyond the gates of the university.

The Commons:  Having spent time on the East Coast and in the Midwest—how are you acclimating to the Northwest?

AS:  Like most I imagine, my biggest transition has been the weather, though I think I’m acclimating well. Seattle is in many ways, like Burlington, Vt., where I lived for five years. I always said if I could situate Burlington in more of a diverse city context, I might stay forever. Seattle has been that for me. With access to the water and the mountains, Canada and the many diverse offerings and attractions, I’ve enjoyed a full calendar of activities. Add in great professional and college sports and I’m practically in heaven.  I’m certainly an East Coaster and truthfully a Southerner, but I do love the Pacific Northwest.

The Commons:  This is the second Jesuit university you’ve worked at. What is it about the Jesuit ethos that resonates with you?

AS:  The focus on holistic development, service, intellectual integrity, critical inquiry, the humanity of all, open dialogue, social justice and professional development especially speak to me. I feel at home in Jesuit higher education and feel strongly I have been pushed to the next level in my growth as a person and a professional.

The Commons:  Let’s take a few steps back to when you were deciding what to do professionally. What led you to the field of student development?

AS:  Like many in the field of student development, I was a highly engaged and involved as an undergraduate student. As a psychology major, I thought I was well on my way to becoming a clinical psychologist. Through conversations with several mentors, I discovered the work I’d been doing through my student leadership was also a very real career path. Not fully moved by their advisement, it wasn’t until my grandmother and guardian passed away that I truly began discerning my life’s true calling and committed to pursuing a career in student development. I certainly made the right decision as I’ve enjoyed a great career thus far and am excited about what the future holds.

The Commons:  Can you talk about the teaching and scholarship you’ve done?

AS:  My scholarly and professional interests include examining the effects of oppression and discriminatory practices in college communities, exploring the experiences of students of color in higher education, examining campus climate in the context of bias related acts and behaviors, and exploring the experiences of African American men in higher education. I was a member of the faculty in the Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration program at the University of Vermont and was also a member of the faculty at the Community College of Vermont.  I also taught at both Syracuse University and North Carolina State University. I’ve taught courses in student affairs administration, dissertation writing, seminars in education and first year experience courses.  I enjoy teaching and conducting research and look forward to engaging again with students in the classroom.

The Commons:  What gets you out of bed every morning?

AS:  Every day is a new day with unique and sometimes unexpected challenges. Knowing the impact the work I do has on the lives of students is enough to pull me out of bed each day. The added bonus is having the opportunity to work so closely with such amazing folks in Student Development and throughout the university.

The Commons:  If you had one hope for the students of Seattle University, what would that be?

AS:  My one hope for students is that they each realize their full potential and commit to a life beyond their own self- gratification.

The Commons:  What do you like to do in your spare time?

AS:  In what little spare time I have, I can be found doing one of four things; playing/watching sports, watching television, reading or spending time with my nephew or some combination of these. I love most all sports and enjoy living an active life and so I can often be found at Connolly Center or supporting SU and local sports teams. I also enjoy spending time with my friends.

The Commons:  Have you read anything lately that you’d recommend to faculty/staff?

AS:  I recently read for the second time Burro Genius by Victor Villasenor. Burro Genius is a memoir that holds meaning for all of us who work in any education setting. It is the story of “a young life touched by insecurity yet encouraged by a personal sense of artistic destiny.” It is a touching story of anger, discrimination, and triumph. I read it for the first time in 2004 and seven years later was as moved as my first read.