Kevin Wright is a member of the inaugural team that launched the office of student diversity and social justice in the Division Student Affairs. Now its assistant director for student diversity, he is focused on influencing institutional and systemic change and empowering students who hold historically marginalized identities. The former bodyguard and poetry buff learned his approach to work and life at an early age with the women in his home who encouraged him to question the systems around him. He is pursuing a doctorate of education in organizational leadership at Northcentral University. He holds a master’s degree in student affairs administration from Lewis & Clark College, and a bachelor’s degree in business communications from Northern Arizona University.
What is your job in the student diversity and social justice?
I serve as the inaugural assistant director for student diversity. My main priorities involve overseeing student diversity and social justice’s social media, website, internal recruitment, and administrative process, advocating for all students who hold historically marginalized identities, and executing large-scale programming such as the Multicultural Mixer and Festival of Communities.
How did you become involved in social justice?
I don’t exactly know when, to be honest. I was raised in a household of Black womxn who taught me to challenge and question things that didn’t seem right to me. At first, I thought I was a person that asked too many questions until someone told me my questions could lead to people having critical and necessary conversations that could lead to effective change. I developed the habit of questioning things that didn’t seem right to me, in hopes I could change them.
When I was a senior in high school, we had a lot of teacher turnover. So, my cohort ended up having lots of substitute and temporary teachers. They were all phenomenal people, but as a result of constant turnover, there was a lot of inconsistency in grading or the teachers fell behind in the grading. By the time our mid-term grades came out, it looked like everyone in my program was struggling. This program also happened to have the most ethnic diversity. About then, a teacher nudged me and encouraged me to question the grading. My peers and I challenged school administrators to take a look at what was going on. Unfortunately, we were suspended indefinitely because of our "radical" behavior. After our suspension, other students at the school started a petition, and within 24 hours, the suspension was reversed and the grading policy was changed.
From that point on, I questioned issues within the education system, the health care system, the environment, and historically marginalized identities. Eventually, someone told me that what I was doing was a form of social justice, and the rest is history.
What is the biggest challenge in your field?
You are a founding member of the Anti-Black Racism Task Force. Tell us why UNLV needs this campuswide focus now.
In light of the multiple events on campus that targeted students within the African diaspora — for instance, the note that was found in the Lied Library last year threatening Black students and supporters of Bernie Sanders — it is imperative to have a focus on addressing anti-Black racism to prevent such incidents from happening at UNLV. (The African diaspora, for people who may not be familiar with the term, refers to anyone whose lineage can be traced back to the continent of Africa, and acknowledges the mass dispersion of people who were taken from their land and transported to the Americas and the Caribbean.)
Black students already contend every day with social and systemic threats to their well-being that also stress their mental health. The least that could happen is that they do not have to worry about these things while pursuing a higher education that should, in fact, empower them to fight against and correct injustice.
Why was that name selected? Why is it important to say “Anti-Black Racism” as opposed to “Anti-Racism?”
Anti-Black Racism stems from the term anti-Blackness. Anti-Blackness is a form of racism that specifically impacts the well-being of people within the African diaspora. In light of the incidents that have happened throughout the years targeting Black students, the various forms of racism and bias faced by Black faculty and staff, the lack of representation of Black faculty and staff in multiple functional areas, and the demands made by Black students, student leaders, and registered student organizations, the task force was created. Yes, all forms of racism need to be addressed, and at the same time, the aforementioned incidents are why the Anti-Black Racism Task Force exists.
What is the focus of the student committee of the task force?
The focus for the student committee is to specifically address any concerns that center on the needs of students within the African diaspora at UNLV. Students have been very vocal and transparent about what they need, and the student committee seeks to develop solutions to each concern that has been raised by the students. This helps the task force ensure its decisions that lead to systemic and institutional change are rooted in student voices. Right now, for instance, the student committee is addressing the lack of culturally competent mental health services available to students, along with the lack of representation of Black mental health practitioners.
Do you have any books you consider “must-reads” for students and faculty who want to get involved in social justice and combating systemic racism?
- Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper
- Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire
- Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldúa
- Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
- Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks
What do you read for fun? Favorite show on Netflix?
I read poetry. My favorite book is titled Labyrinth of a Melaninated Being: A Collection of Poems by poetik. My favorite show on Netflix is Family Reunion.
What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
Before working in higher education, I used to work in construction, government affairs, culinary arts, and bodyguard services. Also, I have a Funko Pop! collection.
How has COVID-19 changed how you do your work?
COVID-19 has resulted in me working remotely. It’s bittersweet because while I do not have to worry about my daily commute anymore, I still miss seeing my students around campus while I’m running errands and traveling from meeting to meeting.