By Shane Madden and Abby Kozal
The GRCC community continued the process of selecting its next president, Wednesday, Oct. 19, hosting a series of public and student forums, as well as a public interview with the Board of Trustees for the second of three finalists, Charles Lepper.
Lepper is currently serving as vice president for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management at Salt Lake Community College in Salt Lake City, Utah. But has spent time in the Grand Rapids area while earning his master’s degree at Grand Valley State University.
When asked about his plans for GRCC, Lepper said he will ask the questions: “Is it resilient? Is it inclusive? And is it Mutually beneficial?”
Throughout the day Lepper consistently hit on the importance of opportunity. Not only giving students the opportunity to come to school but to thrive, as well as giving faculty the resources and support to grow as educators. He shared a story with The Collegiate that explained his insistence.
“Part of my own story is that during high school, my assistant principal discouraged me from taking college prep courses,” Lepper said. “He would tell me that I would never go to college and that I did not need them. Because of this experience, I developed a passion for learning, and supporting others as they learn. I went to college thinking I would fail… Fortunately I found the support systems that I needed to be successful. Today, I feel lucky to get to do the work I do on behalf of the students.”
During the justice, equity, and access forum, Lepper was asked a question regarding tackling controversial topics such as politics and gender identity, and whether or not it is appropriate for a president to abstain from commenting on them.
“This is a fine line that has to be balanced and is changing. I don’t think any of those topics are off the table for me to provide comment,” Lepper said. “I think that’s where we use our institutional values and our mission and vision as the guide for those conversations. We can’t be an institution where we talk about equity and inclusion without being willing to have the president talk about those things. We can’t say to members of the LBGTQ community, ‘we welcome you here,’ then not take a stand on those topics. One thing we also have to ask ourselves through that lens is, what impact, by not saying something has on our institution, our employees and our students.”
He proved his point later during the Board of Trustees interview when Trustee Salvador Lopez asked: “When we think of systems, we are reminded every day that the challenges facing our community are interconnected and intersectional, please describe an experience in your past work that underscores your ability to initiate change and navigate through that complexity.”
Lepper didn’t bat an eye and dove into campus gender politics.
“Over the past few years, we have had conversations about gender identity on our campus, and what that means in terms of safety, what that means as far as feeling welcomed and connected to the institution. Where those systems have really interconnected. We’ve had to work through some things with our registrar’s office. What is our policy and our practice as an institution if a student has a name that is not their legal name that they choose to be known as. What does that mean in the classroom and how does that impact the students learning, what processes do we need to go through for that. We have had to spend time educating folks about what that means, and what the different gender identity pronouns mean and how that works.”
Lepper advocated for humanity, empathy, and understanding throughout his interview. Emphasizing that the most important lesson he thinks students can learn at GRCC is that “everyone has their own lived experiences, our own opinions, and they all matter and are valid.”
“In closing, thank you for the opportunity to share my own story and to be considered for this position is a great honor. If selected it would be my greatest honor to serve as your next president, it would be something I would do to the best of my abilities.”