By: Aaliyah Roulhac
If you are anything like me, then when you first caught wind of the black, female Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs at Rutgers University, your first thought was “Who is this?” and the one that followed was, “I have to meet her.” Voice Magazine had the pleasure of sitting down with the administrator to learn more about her background and position, as well as her thoughts on the importance of a voice.
Felicia McGinty is originally from Phoenix, Arizona and is the daughter of farmers who were the children of migrant sharecroppers. Very early on in the discussion, McGinty makes a connection to Latino immigrants, “When you think about migrant workers now, people tend to only think about brown people, they only think about Mexican Americans, but we were migrant workers in Arizona- we went to Arizona to sharecrop.”
The Vice Chancellor studied at Northern Arizona University where she received her Bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, her Master’s in counseling and her doctorate in educational leadership. McGinty’s accomplishments are beyond impressive but the road to those said victories, was not an easy one. “I almost dropped out. I got there and money was tight, I was like ‘I don’t know how I’m going to stay here’,” the administrator revealed about her early struggles as a college student.
Northern Arizona University had a black student population of 1.6% when McGinty attended; proving challenging as an environment to find support in, but she did find that support with the dean of students. The dean, who just so happened to be black, gave her academic as well as financial tips, recommending that she become a Resident Assistant to cover room and board fees. Moreover, he taught her a lot by leading by example and teaching her how to use her voice; “He helped me, he made the complete difference in my life, in me graduating college and really me choosing the profession I chose.”
McGinty feels very strongly about what it means to have a voice and how it should be used. In fact, she explains, “We all have a voice. We all have the ability to do something, to say something, so for me it’s just a great responsibility learning how to use it. It’s important because I always feel like no matter where I’m going or where I’m at, I always have a voice. Even if I’m sitting in a room with very powerful, elitist, white men – I have a voice. I may or may not feel empowered to use it in that moment but I have a voice.”
When asked if anyone had ever tried to stifle her voice, McGinty chuckled and revealed that that is commonplace in her position, so much so that she could not pick out a specific instance It is important to note is that McGinty is surrounded by people much different than herself; people who society has engrained in her to feel inferior towards, yet she does not allow her environment to quiet her voice.
When speaking of the necessary time for one to exercise their voice, the Vice Chancellor began to discuss a woman who she had come in contact with at a leadership conference over the summer. Speaking on diversity, the woman, who was in higher education at another university, explained, “What minorities need to do is just blend in and be like everyone else. If you don’t draw attention to yourself and the fact that you’re different, then people won’t notice and they won’t make it a big deal.” At that moment, McGinty decided to use her voice to negate what the woman was saying, taking it on as a responsibility on behalf of all minorities.
The administrator’s responsibility was not just limited to that space and time however, she carries it in her everyday professional life, as well. “I try to lead by example and I try to create a space for others to do so as well and to encourage them to speak up but to also be thoughtful. The thing about having a voice is learning when and how to use it,” said McGinty.
The balance between knowing what to exercise one’s voice on can be tricky sometimes, but it is important to use it nonetheless. According to her, “It’s a balance but students have a lot of influence on what goes on here [Rutgers] and they have the space to make an impact.”
McGinty has a lot of faith in the student body and believes that we can do more than we give ourselves credit for, collectively. “I want students to know that they do have a voice and it does matter. You’re not just a student- you have a purpose and a right to be here. This is your university and you should speak up. If there are things that you think we can do better- it’s okay to challenge us to do better and if there are things that you love about the university, it’s okay to give a compliment too.”
So if you were wondering what the Vice Chancellor is all about, like I was, here are a few things to note: she loves working with students, she likes to push the envelope of what’s comfortable and she believes in students and the untapped power that they have.