Using counseling to build community on campus
Dr. Lesley-Ann Brown-Henderson is Northwestern University’s Executive Director of Campus Inclusion and Community. Dr. Brown-Henderson has helped build a responsive and dedicated team within the Division of Student Affairs since coming to Northwestern in 2012. Excitedly awaiting the arrival of her first child, Dr. Brown-Henderson discussed her background, her daily work and the ways she unwinds.
Where did your interest in campus inclusion begin?
It began with my own personal experience of feeling ostracized. I came to the U.S. from Montreal, Canada, in eighth grade. In one of my first classes, my teacher singled me out, as the only black student in class, to speak about the civil rights movement. Given my lack of U.S. context, I was unable to answer her questions with as much depth as she expected. Everyone in my class wondered why this black girl didn’t know much about the civil rights movement. I’ve always worked to make sure students don’t feel as alone as I felt in that moment.
What does your typical day look like?
Every day is a different adventure. My days usually involve some sort of supervision — I supervise five staff members — and several times a week I meet with other faculty and staff across the university to provide consultation, to discuss collaborations and to advocate on behalf of our students. I meet with the president and vice president of the Associated Student Government about twice a month, and there are always meetings with students on my calendar.
You have degrees in counseling psychology. How does that figure into your work?
I think my listening skills, and my concern for the whole person — not just the issue a student brings to me — have really benefited from my training in psychology. I understand that what students don’t say can be as important as what they do tell me.
What is the best part of your job?
The students and the Campus Inclusion and Community staff team. The students are talented and passionate — some of the most amazing students I’ve worked with. It’s been such a gift to see them triumph. I love my team, and focusing my attention on them brings me joy. It’s important to me that they feel prioritized and supported. I want to be a backbone for the team.
How do you cope with challenges?
I’m a big fitness person. I teach group fitness two days a week, at 5:30 a.m. and 6:30 a.m., and that’s been a great release. Making time for the people I love really helps too. I try to keep myself physically, mentally and emotionally well so I can do my job well.