Editor’s note: responses were lightly edited for length.
Months into OU President James Gallogly’s tenure, the first vice president of the office of university community resigned amid controversy. On Aug. 15, Jane Irungu took that place as the interim associate vice president for university community.
Irungu was the first from her childhood village in Kenya to graduate high school. This achievement sparked a more than three decades-long career working in K-12 and higher education. She received her bachelor’s from Kenyatta University in Kenya and her master’s and doctorate from the University of Kansas.
Before coming to OU in 2017, she held positions at a high school in Kenya, the University of Kansas and the University of Oregon. Her career has focused on working with diversity programs and underrepresented students. She previously served as the executive director for the Southwest Center for Human Relations Studies at OU until being named the interim associate vice president for university community.
Irungu said she is excited to take on this new position and has high hopes for what the office can achieve in the future. She sat down with The Daily and answered questions about herself, her goals and the department.
Q: What skills does the person coming into this position need to bring to the table?
A: You have to be able to inspire people. I'm hoping that in a small way, I will inspire the staff here and our campus partners that we need to work for their ideals of equity and inclusion.
I also feel like when you are doing this kind of work … you have to be agile because the work of diversity and inclusion, for whatever reason, everybody seems to have an idea what it should look like.
And the other thing is just being a good listener. People just want to be heard. People just want to express themselves. You cannot be somebody who is just acting without really providing yourself the room and the space to think through it. … So that whatever you act upon, you act upon it with some intentional actions that are going to impact change.
Q: Are you interested in becoming the permanent associate vice president for university community?
A: I wish I had that response for you right now… Maybe if you come back in a few months when the job is posted and I see what the job entails, then I'll probably have an answer. What I'm focusing on right now is doing my best in this interim position, making sure that we focus on whatever our goals are, our mission and vision for this office, working with partners across campus to create a more diverse and inclusive campus.
Q: What would you say to students who feel underrepresented or don’t know who to turn to when they need help?
A: Education changed my life. My dad had to beg my grandfather to allow me to go to high school because it was the males who were given priority. When my father said, ‘she has to go to school’ and I went to school, that changed my life.
So for me education is not just routine. Education is transformative. If there are students out there who feel like they are conflicted or they don't know what classes they should be taking or what majors, I'm a first generation college student from a low income family. I would love to meet with them.
I love to support students and I want those students to know my door is open. I don't care what they are coming to do. I want to listen to them. If I can support them right away I will.
Q: What are your goals for the department?
A: I’m still doing some needs assessments, but it’s very clear to me as (OU President James Gallogly) has said that faculty recruitment and retention is very, very critical… So faculty recruitment, retention and development means that we are working with the departments to make sure that our faculty is as diverse as we would want it to be.
So that is at the top of my agenda, the other one is just making sure we are doing the same for students. Are we attracting diverse students? Are we diversifying our student population and are our students being supported to succeed?
Whether they are students with disabilities, whether they're LGBTQ students, whether they are minority students, whether they are low income students - what are we doing to make sure that they feel included? What opportunities are we providing them? My role is to create infrastructure for success for everyone.
I see this office as kind of that catalyst that creates synergies among people and among departments and among schools so that we can all work towards the common goal of creating a diverse, inclusive, enriched campus.