With his signature wide grin and bow tie, Kevin McDonald stepped to the lectern and gave his parting thoughts Wednesday afternoon to a packed crowd at his farewell event in the Jesse Hall rotunda.
“I leave here hoping I’ve made a little bit of an impact,” McDonald said. “You all make me feel that the collaborative efforts of our division and the impact was much further, wider and deeper than we could’ve imagined.”
Since March 2016, McDonald has served as the chief diversity officer for the University of Missouri System and MU’s vice chancellor for inclusion, diversity and equity, positions that were created in response to student demands following campus protests in 2015.
In the fall, McDonald will head to the University of Virginia to assume a position as vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion.
“You all make it easy for me to take on this opportunity,” McDonald said. “I know that this work won’t miss a beat.”
McDonald introduced the Inclusive Excellence Framework, the university’s first diversity strategic plan.
He also brought to fruition Men of Color, Honor and Ambition (MOCHA), as well as WOCHA, its female equivalent. Both programs are systemwide initiatives for undergraduate students that encourage leadership and professional development.
Christopher Moore, an MU student, met McDonald through MOCHA and said he was going “downhill” before they connected. McDonald was able to guide him onto a different route, he said.
“He really showed me what it took to be a leader,” Moore said, “not only a leader, but an African American leader.”
Patricka Williams-Simon, an MU Ph.D. candidate in the division of biological sciences, described McDonald as “phenomenal.” He has always been approachable and welcoming, speaking at the core of issues and never shying away, she said.
“He bridged the gap between students, faculty and staff,” Williams-Simon said. “He addressed the elephant in the room. We had conversations that we hadn’t had before.”
African Graduate Professional Student Association Vice President Johanna Milord awarded McDonald with the association’s first medal of honor.
Milord commended McDonald on his work toward cultural orientation growth and educational access for minority and underrepresented students.
“The climate of Mizzou overall is friendlier and warmer because of you,” Milord said. “You have been a pillar of support in your advocacy and efforts, not just in the professional sense but also in the background, the small things.”
McDonald was also declared as an honorary police officer by MU Police Chief Doug Schwandt.
Many at the farewell said they remember feeling “heartbroken” to hear McDonald was leaving.
Marshall Stewart, the UM System’s chief engagement officer and MU’s vice chancellor for extension and engagement, said when McDonald arrived, the two immediately bonded.
“I’ve never known anyone better in diversity, equity and inclusion,” Stewart said. “He just draws people to him.”
CJ Tatum, McDonald’s former senior executive assistant, shared the same sense of loss.
“I’ve learned that the work of diversity on this campus is not a noun but it’s a verb with commitment and accountability,” she said through tears during her speech. “As a valid leader, you’ve demonstrated to us all the qualities of a true visionary leader.”
UM System President Mun Choi said McDonald recognized the challenges and stepped up when the university was at a pivotal point with unknown outcomes.
“He recognized the challenges and said, ‘We have some hard work to do,’” Choi said. “For the past 2½ years, our university has been strengthened.”
The foundation that McDonald and his team laid down will remain, and the team will continue its work.
NaTashua R. Davis, who currently serves as executive director of MU’s Access and Leadership Development Unit, will step in as MU’s interim vice chancellor for inclusion, diversity and equity July 26.
Davis met McDonald shortly after he came to the university. She said they worked together to establish and expand programs to assist students with access to education for their success.
“He’s just created such a solid foundation for us,” Davis said, “and we’re just wanting to make sure we continue to build on that progress and move forward.”