Southeast Appoints Rucker Vice President for Equity, Access and Behavioral Health

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Sonia Rucker, assistant to the president for Equity and Diversity and Dean of Students at Southeast Missouri State University, has been appointed vice president for equity, access and behavioral health.

The appointment will be effective Sept. 1. In this role, Rucker will have oversight of the new Division of Equity, Access and Behavioral Health at Southeast.

Additionally, Trent Ball, assistant vice president for academic diversity and outreach at Southeast, has been named associate vice president for equity and access, and will report to Rucker.

The Division of Equity, Access and Behavioral Health will bring together under one umbrella a number of offices, including the Center for Behavioral Health and Accessibility; Student Conduct; the LGBTQ+ Resource Center; Title IX enforcement of the sexual harassment policy and federal Equal Opportunity law compliance; enforcement of the University’s Non-Discrimination/Affirmative Action policies, procedures and practices and compliance with state and federal civil rights laws; Academic Support Centers; TRIO Programs, currently including the McNair Scholars Programs and Student Support Services; Educational Access Programs; and the Learning Assistance Program.

Sonia Rucker, assistant to the president for Equity and Diversity and Dean of Students at Southeast Missouri State University, has been appointed vice president for equity, access and behavioral health.

Counseling and Disability Services, renamed the Center for Behavioral Health and Accessibility, will remain under the Division of Equity, Access and Behavioral Health with continued oversight from Dr. Randy Carter, associate dean of students.

The Center’s new name better reflects its efforts to offer more integrated services for an increasingly diverse community and the need to be more flexible and inclusive in how those services will be delivered. The Center will continue to offer traditional counseling and other mental health services face to face and via Telehealth options, along with substance use awareness, victim advocacy and violence prevention as well as accessibility coordination and services for students with disabilities.

Additionally, the Center will expand its services to provide behavioral health consultations, skills-based workshops, group counseling and other behavioral interventions on a wider range of issues. The staff of the Center for Behavioral Health and Accessibility will be supervised by interim director, Dr. Millicent Odhiambo.

Dr. Carlos Vargas, president of Southeast Missouri State University, said he expects the new Division of Equity, Access and Behavioral Health to strengthen the University’s diversity education efforts and bolster the cultural competence of the University community.

The appointment underscores Southeast’s commitment to promoting equity and inclusion across all areas of the institution, he said.

“Elevating the position to the vice president level increases the visibility of the unit and creates opportunities to more effectively meet the expectations of the University community,” Vargas said. “Since Sonia’s arrival here in 2015, she has very capably created intentional and systemic organizational change related to diversity, equity and inclusion. While much work remains to be accomplished, we are dedicated to redoubling our efforts in the months and years ahead and focusing on initiatives to positively impact these crucial areas that demand our attention. I am confident in Sonia’s ability to lead us in that direction.”

In addition to serving as vice president for equity, access and behavioral health, Rucker will continue to serve as Dean of Students.

Trent Ball, assistant vice president for academic diversity and outreach at Southeast, has been named associate vice president for equity and access.

In taking on his new role, Ball will provide additional leadership to the Division of Equity, Access and Behavioral Health. He also will assist in providing diversity training and outreach, and be responsible for working with academic and administrative units across the University to develop and implement initiatives that focus on the recruitment and retention of minority faculty and staff, as well as underrepresented student populations. He will also continue to oversee the University’s TRIO Programs, Educational Access Programs and the Learning Assistance Program.

Among the Division’s first priorities will be to produce a report that closes out the work of the President’s Task Force on Diversity Education and its 2015 recommendations.

Additionally, the Division will provide leadership to the Equity and Inclusion Committee to develop and implement a multi-year training program for University leaders, strengthen mentoring programs, establish workshops dedicated to diversity and cultural inclusion, and enhance engagement with community partners.

The Division’s focus, with input from the Equity and Inclusion Committee, will also be on facilitating opportunities and coordinating efforts for Southeast’s administrative units and academic colleges to continue conversations, and initiate new ones if necessary, that identify specific actions and reaffirm the University’s commitment to being an increasingly diverse and inclusive community.

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