After serving as interim vice chancellor for two years, Monroe Gorden, Jr. was named UCLA’s vice chancellor of student affairs in April 2018. Since then, he has spearheaded various ongoing initiatives to promote the growth and development of both students and staff. Previously, Gorden served as associate vice chancellor for administration in UCLA Student Affairs and as UCLA’s compliance officer for the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 for nearly 11 years. Gorden’s prolific career at UCLA stems from his Bruin roots as a UCLA alumnus who got a B.A. in political science and completed the executive program in management at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, as well as earning a doctorate from Pepperdine University School of Law. From playing football at UCLA to volunteering at an L.A. prison, Gorden shares how his UCLA experience shaped his passion for service and his current vision for the campus.
My first couple of years at UCLA I played on the football team, and I had a narrow scope of the campus because the majority of my time was spent with other athletes. At the same time I always knew that I was very interested in law. I came here originally as a psychology major, but then ultimately morphed into a political science major. I ended up getting injured, no longer played football, and was able to expand the number of friends I had in my network and do things I hadn’t done when I first came on campus.
I got involved in a lot more volunteer activities after I stopped playing football. One of my faculty led a group down at the L.A. prison, so I travelled with him and went down to the prison a couple times a month. There, we read to different inmates and helped them in various ways. I found it inspirational, and it led me to what I wanted to do in law school. It gave me a sense of what it meant to actually help others. My parents did a great job of that as I was growing up, but at the same time I don’t feel like I really appreciated the assistance I could bring to other folks until I got to college and I was able to engage in those extracurricular activities. To see how I really made an impact in the small things — that had a lot to do with molding me into who I wanted to be.
I had faculty who were inspirational in different ways and who were mentors to me, which was great because it gave me a chance to see faculty outside their academic roles. The mentorship they provided me was not just about helping me on a test or paper. It was really more about trying to help me in life. In addition, I was able to make a lot of great mentors within student affairs. Between my academic mentors and my student affairs mentors, they were very impactful to my trajectory at UCLA.
When I got into law school, initially I wanted to go into public interest law. I did internships with the D.A.’s office, and clearly my volunteerism from UCLA had a lot to do with my thought process of trying to engage in those activities in law school. Ultimately, I went into business litigation, but I think the foundation of what I learned here at UCLA had a lot to do with my ability to assist and help people even through the business litigation field.
One of the reasons I came back to work at UCLA was because I had a positive experience. I think the way I approach my work is really more about service to others. That’s entirely what this organization is about — how do we serve other individuals? I think I had a good continued foundation here at UCLA of how to serve other people.
As vice chancellor of student affairs, I feel good in the sense that we’ve done a lot, energized knowing what we are going to do, and hopeful knowing the challenges that continue to exist. We’ve done a tremendous amount. I’ve only seen us get better and better throughout the years. There are a lot of initiatives that we’ve started that we’re eager to see come to fruition. The first is respectful dialogues across areas of difference. The second is internship and experiential learning initiatives. The third is promoting positive mental health.
I’m hopeful for the challenges. There are a lot of challenges we continue to have on campus, a lot of students that still are in vulnerable positions who need support, whether we’re talking about undocumented students or international students, African-American students, students of Jewish descent. While these are challenges, we nonetheless sit in the situation where we’ve got to address from a campus perspective what we’re doing, and I feel really hopeful we can do better.
The first area of my vision is a collaborative commitment to the growth and development of our students. The reason we say collaborative commitment is that it’s all about how we within student affairs, with over 25 departments, collaborate in ways to provide greater support and service to students. Ultimately, the collaborative commitment is for the growth and development of our students. Whether you’re someone who’s academic in the classroom or someone working on the administrative side, you’re educating and you’re there to support students. So the growth and development of students are what we all need to care about and be strong in our commitment.
The second area of focus is the intentional commitment to the professional development of our staff. The institution has to show that the folks that we are entrusting the education of our students to also have a great investment coming from the institution. We’ve invested broadly in professional development opportunities for our staff and continue to do so to make sure staff see themselves not just as individuals who come here to just do work, but also as individuals who we care about and who we know are doing fabulous work. Within student affairs, we’ve created a culture where every single staff member is expected to go through some aspect of professional development. This puts us in a better position to provide better service to our constituents. Professional development has a lot to do with being proactive. We want to make sure we are meeting the needs of people today, but we also need to think about how we are positioning ourselves so that we meet the needs of those who come five years from now.