Since his arrival on campus during winter break, new Dean of Students Dr. Jeffery Burgin has told anyone who will listen that “although things are not always perfect, we are all in this together. And that is the responsibility of each of us in this community to make this university the best that it can be.”
Now a month into his time here at Belmont the former vice president of Student Affairs and dean of students at Alabama A&M, is looking to build a base that creates this vision of community within the student population, while also expanding the university’s outreach.
Vision editor Autumn Allison sat down with Burgin to discuss his initial interests in the position, thoughts for the future, ideas he has for expansion and how it takes a solid base to push forward.
Belmont Vision: What was it about Belmont that got you interested in this position?
Dr. Burgin: Well, I was familiar with Belmont actually. One of my classmates used to work here at the university as well as one of the current staff members here who was at University of Alabama A&M who was in a doctoral program. So I was familiar with them and they spoke very highly of the institution and during my graduate school years, I interned at Vanderbilt. So I was familiar with living in the Nashville area and coming on Belmont’s campus, with the academic programs and the reputation of the institution. And the fact that it was a Christian institution was very prominent in my decision to apply.
BV: And so in terms of what you did at Alabama A&M, what are some of the programs you implemented there that you think may have a place here at Belmont?
DB: It’s a vastly different institutional type but one of the things I want to do is to collaborate with the different entities here on campus and primarily working so the students here on campus are primarily safe. So I always work with Campus Security in making sure because if students come to a college campus and they don’t feel safe, it is ultimately going to hinder them academically. We want to make sure that we are a safe campus. We, here in the division, want to make sure we do programming that is going to assist in the student experience.
BV: You’ve mentioned expanding outreach from the university. Is that focused more around established relationships like Rose Park or farther out?
DB: Farther out. We’re talking global outreach. This is a global institution. … We want to do things with Rose Park obviously, and there are some commitments that we have through here in the city, but I think there are things here in the state of Tennessee, the United States, as well global.
BV: Do you have any plans to expand the outreach?
DB: As an example, when I went on vacation last summer I went to Curaçao and had the opportunity to do something that I always do: go to a college campus. I had the opportunity to visit the University of the the Netherlands Antilles in Curaçao and by going there and speaking with their business department and what they would consider student affairs staff, we actually were able to sign a memorandum of understanding at Alabama A&M for students to go there and for their students to come to Alabama A&M specifically at this point for international business. But trying to create those opportunities where our students are studying abroad and their students are coming here, which is also lending to the diversity initiative that we have here at the university. So I hope to see those kind of things work for here.
BV: And speaking about diversity, do you have any ideas in mind that you think would help increase the diversity at Belmont?
DB: First and foremost when we say diversity I think we need to be very clear about what we are talking about. It would be fine for us to have this magical number of what racial or gender make up there may be, but the reality is that you can have those numbers exactly how you want them but not have a feeling of comradery on a college campus. So we really need to pin down and be definitive on what diversity is or what we mean when we say diversity.
BV: I do think that’s been a problem recently. There hasn’t really been an explanation of what that means.
DB: I think if we were to look at what Nashville looked like, there may be an ethnic diversity of 21 percent, I don’t know specifically, but if we were to look at that as a goal, that’s fine. But individuals who come here need to see within the academic departments or programmatic incentives that they are infused into the curriculum and the activities here at the university.
BV: Over the years, students have complained about having a lack of voice here at the university. How do you plan to address this?
DB: When you say a voice what does that mean? When does SGA talks about desiring more power, what does that look like? First and foremost, students need to understand the ability that they have to have the interactions with the administration. I can’t speak of the past because I don’t know it. But one of the things that is very important for me, because of the affinity that I have for students, is making sure that students have the ability to come and talk to me as an administrator whenever they need to. That is creating an opportunity for them to be able to speak out on different things. And that’s not just for SGA, it’s for all students.
BV: For a while, Belmont had a trend of increasing drug rates, which can be chalked up to the increasing student population. Since you are over Student Affairs, do you see a need for a change to the Code of Conduct to counteract this increase?
DB: I would have to look at what is going on statistically … I think that we have a very solid code of conduct. So that’s not an issue. I think that we obviously need to create programs, and as I said earlier, doing those things of being a Christian institution and making sure that students are socially responsibly. I think that as we educate the community on that, we will have less of those issues.
BV: I know you’ve only been here for a month, but what kind of mark do you want leave on this campus?
DB: I want the division of student affairs to be a division that our peer and aspiring groups look to as a model. I think that we have some solid staff members and that we can do some really great things. I think that we will work together as a team in doing some of those things in order to optimize the overall experience for the student. I always say that as an undergraduate student, I had an awesome experience. I want students, when they leave Belmont University to say ‘I had an awesome experience.’ Therefore, creating an opportunity for them to give their time, talent and their treasure back to the institution. I think it’s important that we all invest in making Belmont the best that it possibly can be. So want to work towards building a giving culture within the student ranks, but really just wanting to make sure we do everything we can that the students have a great experience.
BV: And what does that format look like for making this a model for other institutions?
DB: The initiatives that we have top down are following the best practices and that we serve the students at the highest level. That our incidents, we are going to have incidents, but as we have those that we do those things that are more educational and less punitive for our students. And I think that as we are bringing in students and developing them academically, socially and spiritually that they go out and then begin to go into student affairs or various fields of endeavor and be the best that they possibly can be. It’s like the roots. We want to be the foundation, we want to grow into this beautiful tree and then branches out and becomes just fantastic.