Vice president of Student Affairs hosts first town hall for student voices


Carlos Rene Castro

Kent L. Willis, vice president of the Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, speaks to Fresno State students at a town hall meeting on Wednesday, March 29, 2023, at the Resnick Student Union. (Carlos Rene Castro/The Collegian)

By Jazmin Alvarado, Reporter

During a town hall event at Fresno State, Loretta Jahsi, an undergraduate student, spoke about how the younger generations are slowly starting to lose faith in the value of education and its importance.

“How do we combat the mentality that school is no longer as important as it used to be?” Jahsi asked.

In response, Kent L. Willis, who hosted the event, said it’s important to remind people that education is the way to prepare themselves to be a leader.

“More than anything, it is a matter of creating and sustaining a civil society. It’s about being able to prepare yourself to be a leader, and not just a personal leader, but a leader in the state, in the country, and a leader of communities,” he said.

Willis hosted his first town hall meeting on March 29 at the Resnick Student Union.

Once he started his position as Fresno State’s vice president of the Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management in January, he said his main goal is to leave the community of Fresno State feeling empowered, proud of who they are and like they belong on campus

His position oversees employees in division and student service offices such as enrollment, advising, migrant services and more, according to the Fresno State News website.

At the town hall meeting on Wednesday, March 29, 2023, at the Resnick Student Union, Fresno State students had the opportunity to connect with Dr. Kent L. Willis. (Carlos Rene Castro/ The Collegian)

The town hall welcomed attendees to ask questions, give comments and provide feedback, allowing Willis to showcase the work he had done.

“I think it’s important for me to introduce myself to you, and for us to have a candid conversation about my vision for the Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management,” Willis said in his opening remarks. “I also think it’s important to explain that my responsibility is to work for you.”

There were about 30 people who attended the meeting, with a combination of faculty and students of all different majors and backgrounds.

Project Hope, an organization on campus to support students facing challenges impacting their education, offered $25 gift cards to Popeyes, Starbucks or Target.

After introductions, Willis opened the floor to the audience. One student discussed concerns about Black students’ outreach and how there wasn’t much awareness of resources.

“Where can I go to sit down and study if I need to? I see so much outreach for other communities but nothing specifically for the Black community,” said Diara Spencer, an undergraduate student.
Willis responded by explaining that student outreach and making sure students are aware of the resources available was a main priority in his division.

“Something that is a priority in the Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management is to do a better job with connecting with our students and notifying them of what’s available,” he said.

Willis said a concern of his own is why Black Greek organizations don’t have a booth in the quad.

“These are the types of things that need to be fixed. It’s hard for you to find representation in a place that does not have anywhere for you to be,” he said. “It’s my responsibility now to tell you that we not only hear what you’re saying, but that we’re going to do something about it.”

As the meeting proceeded, Rashanda Booker, the inaugural University Diversity Officer, said how important it was to have hope and to be able to have difficult conversations in a public manner.

Rashanda Booker, university diversity officer, speaking at the town hall meeting. (Carlos Rene Castro/ The Collegian)

“We have to hold onto hope because without it we have nothing else,” Booker said. “It’s so important to have these conversations because the community is going to require us to move collectively. To be able to continue to move forward is something we can’t do alone.”

Willis also spoke about his promises and his responsibilities to the students and community of Fresno State.

“I think today’s meeting was a great way to get us all on the same page. It was a great way to get to know him as a person and to see that he’s really genuine about wanting to do outreach. I leave this meeting feeling hopeful and empowered,” said Kaywanna Williams, the president of the NAACP.

To close the meeting, Willis said he is here to amplify student voices, to earn trust and for people to rely on to uplift issues they may be having.

He only asks that in return people be present and meet him halfway.

“The most important takeaway or the overarching goal for us is to create a transformative cocurricular learning experience. It’s what the university of the future is and it’s what the students of the 21st century demand,” Willis told The Collegian.

Attendees at the town meeting surround Kent L. Willis, vice president of the division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, for a group shot. (Carlos Rene Castro/ The Collegian)