Moving at the speed of relationships

by Matt Jardin  |   

Multicultural Student Services director Sara Caldwell-Kan
Multicultural Student Services director Sara Caldwell-Kan. (Photo courtesy of Sara Caldwell-Kan)

Sara Caldwell-Kan is counting down the days until she arrives in Alaska. Not only is she excited to escape the unprecedented heatwave in Oregon, but also to physically step into her new role of Multicultural Student Services director, which she began remotely on July 14.

As Multicultural Student Services director, Caldwell-Kan will promote the academic and personal growth of UAA’s minoritized students by continually working with university leadership and the Seawolf community to address barriers and create opportunities.

“Higher ed is still disproportionately serving some students better than others, and I know we know that, otherwise this position wouldn’t exist,” said Caldwell-Kan. “Thankfully, everyone at UAA that I talked to agreed to want to continue to grow and be a better institution and support students of color, queer students, first-gen students — any marginalized groups.”

Caldwell-Kan’s title is a natural evolution from her previous position at Oregon State University (OSU), where she served dual roles as interim assistant director of Diversity and Cultural Engagement, as well as interim director of the Asian and Pacific Cultural Center. 

During her time leading those offices, she developed co-curricular programming centered on racial and ethnic identities, experiences and histories, in addition to training around intercultural communication, identity development and social justice.

Not only a leader at OSU, Caldwell-Kan will soon become an alumna twice over. After earning her master’s degree in public health, she transitioned to work toward a Ph.D. in language, equity and education policy after learning about the unique and embedded systems that continually underserve and marginalize some communities.

“Health is not just, ‘How much kale did you eat?’ It's also, ‘Do you feel like you can go through the world and be you in all the ways you learned to be yourself?’” said Caldwell-Kan. “Rather than a Venn diagram, it's much more concentric circle. Student success and student wellness and being able to explore your cultural identity and be your whole self is all connected.”

While Caldwell-Kan works to complete her Ph.D. in the coming year, she will also finalize her move to Anchorage in late August. Upon her arrival, she plans to waste no time establishing real-life relationships with those she’s already met via Zoom over the last few months — those who will help her continue to push the university.

“Challenging work moves at the speed of relationships,” said Caldwell-Kan. “Transformative work — we have to build that together and with a lot of trust, and that can be slow and hard. That means we have to face the music about the things we do well, but also the things that maintain the status quo and continue to push ourselves to do better.”

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