Ashley Stull Meyers introduces herself and talks about the future of the MRC under Office of Institutional Diversity
Quest editor, Clarissa Lam, spoke with the new Program Director for the Multicultural Resource Center (MRC), Ashley Stull Meyers, about the MRC and the Students for Education, Equity, and Direct Service’s (SEEDS) transition from the Office of Student Life to the Office for Institutional Diversity (OID), as well as the steps that brought her to Reed.
This is starting off with a pretty large question, but who are you? What should we know about your past before Reed?
There’s a lot to say. I grew up in Texas, but at this point have been on the West Coast for a little bit over 10 years. I lived in San Francisco for quite a few years and then at this point have been in Portland for five years. And my background actually is not just in higher ed but also contemporary art. That’s kind of a funny, sort of mismatched thing, I think for some people to think that I work in higher ed at this point. But for me, I love art, and I love artists because they are creative and generative and critical, and they’re amazing observationists about the world around us, sort of proposing other ways to be and other ways that the world can look. And funny enough, I think the same thing about college age students. It’s a really cool, special age where you’re young enough that you’re not trapped into the same conventions as your parents, and you can think outside of the box and really imagine what you want the world to be and look like. But at the same time, because you haven’t graduated into being 30, you are still in the moment where you can experiment and push boundaries in a way that it feels less and less easy to do, or more complicated to do, the older you get. The most special, cool time in a person’s life is to be that age in your late teens and early 20s, so I really like working with both artists and students for that reason and for the sort of magic wrapped up in that moment and in those modes of thinking. So yeah, I have mostly been working in the arts sphere. I worked at Merrill Hearst University before it closed, which isn’t too far from here; it’s a little ways south. And now I have ended up at Reed, and at this point, I work both at Reed and remotely for another university in Lake Tahoe called Sierra Nevada University.
Just out of curiosity, what did you study?
In undergrad I got a dual degree both in art history and studio practice, so still looking at thinking about art. I’m not an artist, like I was not good, that wasn’t going anywhere. But again, I love art and artists so much that when I graduated undergrad, I was like, ‘Where do I go? What do I do? Art history doesn’t seem like the perfect path, but obviously neither does being a practicing artist.’ And so I applied to a bunch of different programs and got into some cool stuff. I thought about doing aesthetics and politics at CalArts; I thought about doing a bunch of stuff, but I ultimately ended up in a curatorial practice program in San Francisco, which is why I moved there.
What drew you to Reed?
I think that obviously one thing that everyone says about Reed is talking about the students and how smart and special you all are. It just seems like a really eclectic special group of people, and I’m attracted to that sort of thing. Obviously, you hear things and then you show up and find different things in person, but I was really attracted to Reed for the potential of what sort of environment it seemed like. It seemed like there’s a lot of room for creative thinking and folks that really have a strong interest in academia and working through critical stuff about the world, and so it seemed really, really cool to get a closer look at what that’s about.
What does your day to day or weekly schedule look like at the MRC?
I started out at Reed in a different role. I don’t know if you know that. So I started at Reed last November in sort of a really funny hybrid Student Life role. There’s been a lot of staff transition in Student Life over the past few years, a lot of turmoil. So I came in in a funny moment where several departments in Student Life sort of needed a hand and weren’t prepared to go through the full-on hiring process for permanent staff quite yet at that point, but still needed some help. So I came in in a funny moment where they sort of made up a hybrid role for someone to come in and have their hands in a bunch of different Student Life departments. So I worked with SEEDS; I worked with the MRC; and I worked with Student Engagement, all three. And that was a really, really cool way to get to know Reed and get to know Student Life. I feel like I got a lot of information from that experience that I may not have gotten if I had started out in a more stagnant or linear role. But I got a chance to do that, and then when the call for some of those positions did end up opening, I was really, really excited to apply for the MRC job. So that’s where I ended up.
And then speaking of those staff changes, how do you feel about the wave of women of color that left Reed, and have the Office of Institutional Diversity and Office of Student Life found some stability since then?
I’m hopeful for that. So I don’t think I’m betraying any secret to say that Reed has some work to do away around the ways that it supports its staff of color and staff of marginalized identities who want to hold Reed accountable to some work that looks a little bit different than the way that Reed has operated in the past. And change is hard and change is slow. And so I think that when you have staff that wanna make structural change really quickly, it can be tough, and it can be a culture clash. I don’t think that Reed intentionally pushed anyone out the door, but of course, if you’re doing work that you don’t feel is progressing at the pace that you want it to, you’re frustrated and decide maybe that that institution isn’t the place for you. So that’s unfortunate and it’s something that I’m very aware of because the SEEDS director and I are coming in after two very beloved staff members. I got the chance to know both of them, obviously, because I was here in November. So I got a chance to know both of them and become friends with both of them and see the way that they worked in those roles. And it was really, really inspiring to see the relationships that they had with students and some of the programming that they instituted and just the wealth of stuff that they took on that wasn’t even their responsibility was really cool and amazing and speaks to a lot of them as people. So I’m inspired by that, as someone that got to see a little bit of that, and also intimidated by that a little bit. But it’s cool because it sort of lights a fire in me about the work that still needs to be done. And I hope that I can keep the MRC in a place [where] it means as much just students as it did when the previous director was here. But to reference the other question you asked, I am hopeful that we’re headed towards a better place because of the transition to OID from a different Student Life org chart. I think OID has some of the same goals for Reed that I think maybe we’re just, again, structurally, org chart wise, a little bit different for Student Life to think through because it’s so much bigger of a department. Now that we’re part of OID, we’re part of a smaller team that’s truly dedicated to thinking through some of the logistical specifics of stuff that MRC and SEEDS want to do. So I’m excited about it, and I hope that it’s gonna pay off as a really cool transition.
What’s an org chart?
[It’s] just the way that different departments report to different VP Deans and upper administration. Now, MRC and SEEDS are under Mary James, whose job is to help think critically about that stuff and have those conversations with the President and the VP Deans and whoever else. Whereas before, under Student Life, upper admin and Student Life have just so much stuff that they are responsible for having conversations about that I think maybe, unintentionally, sometimes the kind of things that MRC and SEEDS needed was falling through the cracks. Maybe. I don’t know, but I can understand being overwhelmed by just a wealth of reports in Student Life; whereas in OID, again, we’re a smaller division, and I think that the attention can be a little bit more focused.
And then what are some of your goals for the MRC for this semester, or any changes that you’re hoping to implement?
COVID has really thrown a wrench in obviously, everything that I would love to do. I think that community is important, and gathering in person is really important. And those are some of the favorite things that students like to do, like [eating] together and [sharing] space together. And so much of that is not possible, so it’s a little funny. We’re not going to get a full sense of the dreams I have for the MRC this year; I don’t think just because of those restrictions. But speaking more broadly and specifically to this moment of so much going on in the world, I think that we’re going to be having a lot of conversations about mutual aid, which is something that everyone’s really interested in. We’re in a pretty rotten moment socially and culturally and politically, and it’s hard not to have a ton of anxiety about that. But I think one thing that quells that anxiety is feeling like you’re part of doing something about it. And so I’ve heard a lot from students that y’all are interested in mutual aid, and I am too and so as Madeline from SEEDS. And so I’m really, really excited to talk to people who do that work in cool, interesting ways. I’m really excited to talk to Snack Block, who make sure that protesters are well fed, and Riot Ribs does the same thing. I’m really excited to talk to Sisters of the Road, and I’m really excited to talk to some indigenous groups that are really thinking through what’s going on with land right now and the landscape and the fires and just various things that need to be accounted for and changed just in the state of Oregon and the way we need to reconsider the land that we’re on and who takes care of it and who knows best. So yeah, I think we’re going to be doing a lot of mutual aid stuff, talking through what solidarity means, talking through what community means. All those things are sort of buzzwords at the moment. Everyone loves to talk about self care and community, but what does that mean in really tangible terms? And how can the Reed student body come together to really affect some cool mutual aid and some cool change?
What else should I know about?
Just that I’m excited. I know that turnover seems really fraught. Again, we talked about all the turnover in Student Life in the past few years and people talk about turnover in Student Engagement, turnover in MRC and SEEDS, turnover in the HCC, and all these things. That stuff feels bad and frustrating and like a setback, but I am really excited about some of the new staff that I’m seeing pop up. A lot of us really like each other and have similar ideas about what we want Reed to be, so I do think, even though we’re in sort of like a bummer moment, that hopefully we’re going to be on an upswing here with people who are really, really excited about the potential for what Reed can be and look like.
And over the summer so many more people started to get involved in activism and educated themselves about social issues, most for good reasons but some just as a form of virtue signaling—
That’s okay. If I can get people in the door… No one’s going to be perfect at that work. Even people who do that work for a living occasionally do things that they’re like, ‘You know what? If I had to do that, again, I would have done that in a different way.’ So that’s an important thing that I really want students to know, is there’s no perfect activism. What matters is being engaged in that thinking and constantly being on a road of being accountable and revising your thoughts… Just being humble and being able to grow and revise your thoughts as time moves on. And as best thinking and best practices move on, that’s all anyone can ask of anyone. So there’s no such thing as perfect activism, being engaged in those thoughts and having the willingness to constantly be engaged in that work is what really matters. And not everyone’s mode of organizing and activism is going to look like putting their body on the line downtown; not all activism has to look like that. I do think that like sharing resources on the internet is activism. It’s a little bit more passive of a mode of activism, but it has value. And I think that we’re in a crazy moment where there’s so much to do, and everyone’s going to have different roles in that. So I’m excited to talk about what those different modes of activism and organizing can look like. And for any student that’s interested in that work, there’s a mode of engaging in those practices that fits you and your temperament and your skill sets. And again, it may not look like physically going downtown, but there are other ways to make a difference and engage in that stuff. So that’s something I’m really excited to talk about and encourage.