Meet the New Head of Ethnic Student Services
March 11, 2006
Lisa Webb is the new associate dean and director of ethnic student services at Lewis & Clark College. She leads the College’s efforts to advance its commitment to diversity and multicultural perspectives. Her career in higher education spans more than two decades and includes leadership positions at Harvard University, Stanford University, and the University of California at Davis.
Where did you grow up? In Glencoe, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. We moved there in 1967 and essentially integrated our neighborhood. Within days of our arrival, there were petitions circulating around the neighborhood to have us moved out. But times change. Within a few years, my father had become president of Glencoe’s Human Relations Board and the school board. Eventually, he served two terms as the city of Glencoe’s president–he was the first African American to hold the position.
What did you learn from your parents? I learned so much, especially about giving back. My mother was one of the most generous, loving people I have ever known. She died in 2003. My father is a graduate of Morehouse College and has received many awards for his service and contributions to the college and to the Chicago community. My dad always says, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” I try to live my life in much the same way. I feel very blessed.
Tell me about this picture of you with Martin Luther King Jr. (It’s in a small frame on a shelf in front of her desk.) My sister and I are standing with him. I was 5, and my sister was 9. The picture was taken in 1966, the day of his speech in Hyde Park and the day before his march in Cicero, one of the most violent marches he encountered.
My mother grew up across the street from the King family and was a member of Ebenezer Baptist Church. Martin Luther King Sr. performed my parents’ wedding ceremony and baptized my sister
I don’t remember having that picture taken, but I do remember an event with his father when I was older. My mother organized the first Christian-Jewish event at the temple in Glencoe. Martin Luther King Sr. was the speaker, and my mother sang. The temple was filled … I remember exactly where I was sitting. It was the first time that the African American, Christian, and Jewish communities had come together. My mother was determined to make it happen. “Daddy King” stayed at our house that night–as did about 10 Glencoe police officers. I remember staying up late with him and hearing his stories about the civil rights movement. He was such a sweet man.
Your dissertation was about the power of faith for African American women administrators at mostly white colleges. Has faith been important in your own life? Absolutely. It’s been my anchor. My faith and my work with students are what keep me in higher education. My faith gives me hope and keeps me grounded.
Why did you take this position at Lewis & Clark? It was everything I wanted. I wanted to work with undergrads again (I had been working with graduate students the last few years), and I wanted to get back to diversity, my true passion. I thought I could truly make a difference at Lewis & Clark.
How do you define “diversity”? In the Office of Ethnic Student Services, we define it as representation of traditionally underrepresented students–people of color, students from working-class backgrounds, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) students, and students of different faiths. Our focus is currently on students of color, but our vision for the future is much broader. We want to support all underrepresented students.
In your view, what steps does Lewis & Clark need to take to become a more ethnically diverse community? We must be committed to recruiting and retaining students, faculty, and staff of color. That’s the absolute most important thing. There needs to be a critical mass. To make this happen, we need a concrete, well-thought-out plan. We must have committed people on the student side as well as the faculty and staff side who have been charged to diversify the campus.
You also need to support people of color once they do come here and provide opportunities for the entire community to learn about diversity issues. I have been very pleased with the commitment I have seen thus far from the president, the administration, and faculty at Lewis & Clark. There are some very good things starting to happen, and I think we have a bright future ahead of us.
What initiatives are you focusing on during your first year at the College? We have four areas of focus: developing campuswide diversity programming, supporting and advising student groups and individual students, encouraging faculty and staff diversity, and supporting diversity in the student body. Our office is charged mainly with the first two, but we are supportive and collaborative in all of these areas.
You’ve got an ambitious charge. How do you stay motivated? You’ve got to take it all in pieces and pace yourself. Change can’t happen all at once. You always have to acknowledge and celebrate the successes, no matter how small. When we touch one person or hire one person, that’s one more than yesterday. That’s the only way to succeed in this work. There are many allies and supporters on this campus, and they need to be recognized for their work and their courage.