By Erica Quinones
Interim Director of Intercultural Affairs Carese Bates succeeded former Director of Intercultural Affairs Dr. Jean-Pierre Laurenceau-Medina after his departure from Washington College this semester.
In a Jan. 24 email, Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Dr. Sarah Feyerherm announced that Bates would adopt the Interim Director role after Dr. Laurenceau-Medina’s last day on Feb. 13.
Bates joined the College’s staff in February 2019 as Assistant Director of Intercultural Affairs. In that position, she organized diversity, equity, and inclusion-based training programs with departments, hosted community of color mixers, and, most prominently, coordinated the Washington Scholars Program.
The Washington Scholars Program, a financial assistance and social initiative for high-need, high-achieving students, is a relatively new program, which can make it complicated to manage, according to Dean Feyerherm.
However, Dean Feyerherm said that Bates took over the program “in a real unflappable way. She came in and said I just need to learn everything about this so I can do this right.”
Bates’ adaptability, quick learning, and patience made her a strong candidate for the Interim Director position when the need arose this semester, according to Dean Feyerherm.
The new position not only carries the responsibilities of Assistant Director of Intercultural Affairs, but the directorial responsibilities as well, which include administrative duties.
Those responsibilities are what Bates said she foresees as being the most challenging change.
“Some of the skills that are very challenging in a role like that is being able to balance the role as an advocate for students and also have an understanding of the College culture more broadly,” Dean Feyerherm said. “As a director, you need to move easily into a conversation with a group of students who are upset about a particular incident on campus, and then to be able to transition into another conversation with me and maybe some other senior staff about how we as an institution can respond.”
On the student side of the position, Bates described her approach as “very student-centered,” influenced by her education in school counseling.
However, on the other side of the desk, Bates faces more challenges. Besides the shift from interacting with students to senior staff, she also must balance different responsibilities like committees and meetings.
These many roles can become overwhelming, but Bates said she uses tactics like meditation to keep herself calm and present in the moment.
“[I] take it day by day,” Bates said. “Remembering why I am doing this, my purpose, and keeping student needs at heart.”
With her new administrative roles, Bates will inevitably spend more time behind her desk; however, her role in equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives demand her to be active around campus, according to Dean Feyerherm.
Dean Feyerherm said that, while WC is a primarily white campus, it is part of a nation-wide demographic change.
This puts Bates on the forefront of welcoming and creating a safe space for all students, according to Dean Feyerherm.
“It is not a position where a person can go hide,” Dean Feyerherm said. “They really have to be out there. That’s why I think Carese will be great at it. She has not only demonstrated an ability to connect with students, but an ability to work with her peers, her colleagues, who represent lots of different people on campus and to be really thoughtful about that — look for solutions instead of just tossing out problems.”
Bates does not plan to hide in the Intercultural Affairs Office, saying that she hopes to create a larger Intercultural Affairs presence on campus and in Kent County.
“I still want to seem like a powerful force. I want all students to feel like they have a home away from home. I want everyone to know this is a safe space for everyone,” Bates said.
As Bates began fostering relationships between the Office of Intercultural Affairs and Kent County by actions like serving on committees for the Chesapeake Heartlands project, she also hopes to expand their presence on campus through their newsletters, programming, and department trainings, especially during the orientation process.
“I think I have learned that grabbing students during freshmen year is the greatest opportunity,” Bates said. “Freshman students are new, they are eager to be a part of things, and they know from the beginning that we are a resource here.”
The Office of Intercultural Affairs is the WC institution dedicated to equity, diversity, and inclusion initiatives, but they cannot be the only ones striving to create a home away from home for all students, according to Bates.
“I think it is going to take ground roots and senior staff, just all us coming together and knowing that we are one campus and have an approach that we are one,” Bates said. “We are kind of fixing the segregation that we are having on campus. Hearing the students and understanding that everyone has a voice, and everyone has a purpose.”