Few people would have even considered flying to an event in the middle of 2020, during the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic. But when a former student asked Dr. Kimberly Weatherly to attend her wedding, Weatherly knew that she had to be there.
This invitation was not unusual for Weatherly, assistant dean and director of the Center for Student Diversity, whose career is centered around building relationships with students.
“That’s the biggest joke, that I’m one of those administrators where they always hear, ‘Where are you going?’” Weatherly said. “I’m like, ‘To a wedding.’ ‘Who’s getting married?’ ‘One of my students.’ I literally get invitations because I know my students, I have a great rapport with them.”
Weatherly has worked at the College of William and Mary since 2017, and in that time has led the CSD in providing programming and resources for historically underserved members of the College. From sponsoring cultural heritage events to leading diversity, equity and inclusion workshops, the work of the CSD is focused on engaging the community.
“The students really need us. They enjoy us, they use us, we know them, we build rapport,” Weatherly said. “No place is perfect, but we try really hard and we don’t always get it right. But we try really hard and then we pivot and we make sure that we’re very student oriented.”
Much of Weatherly’s student-forward ethos is the result of her own experiences in higher education. Originally from Cleveland, Weatherly attended Eastern Michigan University for her Bachelor’s Degree, Hampton University for her Master’s Degree and Benedictine University for an Ed.D. Her time at Eastern Michigan especially impacted her.
“I attended a predominantly white institution. I had a center just like this where they nurtured us, where we had mentors. I was one of the first minority peer advisors in that program and minority peer advisors, their focus was programming for diverse populations… I was a young black woman with three white women roommates. And, you know, it’s about diversity and learning about one another.”
“I attended a predominantly white institution,” Weatherly said. “I had a center just like this where they nurtured us, where we had mentors. I was one of the first minority peer advisors in that program and minority peer advisors, their focus was programming for diverse populations… I was a young black woman with three white women roommates. And, you know, it’s about diversity and learning about one another.”
From her open door policy to always listening to students, many of Weatherly’s current practices are inspired by the departments at Eastern Michigan.
“They started programs when it was needed,” Weatherly said. “They always were current on best practices, because sometimes I’ve worked in institutions where sometimes you’re behind. That’s one thing about William and Mary, a lot of times we are on the cutting edge.”
Weatherly emphasized the importance of shifting approaches to keep up with new generations.
“Each class, probably every three to four years, is totally different,” Weatherly said. “People don’t realize that. So your needs and the issues of the world also change, meaning your needs change and your lens changes.”
Despite her formative undergrad experiences, Weatherly fell into the higher education field somewhat accidentally. While finishing up her master’s degree, Weatherly interned at Hampton’s freshman studies department under Director Amanda Murray.
When Weatherly was offered a job to fill in for a coworker on maternity leave, she knew it was the right decision to continue at Hampton.
“I was like, I’m tired of school, tired of being broke,” Weatherly said. “I’m going to sit out one year and I’ll go back and get my doctorate. And I ended up working in freshman studies and the rest is history.”
Weatherly eventually got her Ed.D in higher education from Benedictine University. She then worked as director of multicultural affairs at Columbia College Chicago before moving to the College.
Weatherly had previously familiarized herself with the Williamsburg area when she was working at Hampton, during which time she occasionally came to study at the College’s library. She was also drawn to being at a traditional campus with international recognition and the chance to develop the CSD.
“I was told they wanted to grow it and expand it, and you know, that we would eventually be moving to a new building,” Weatherly said. “And I wanted to be a part of that process and expand our programing. And I wanted to implement academic, social and cultural programs and resources in the center.”
When Weatherly arrived at the College, she focused on making the CSD more accessible and inviting for student interaction.
“We were like, we’re used to a center being the hub,” Weatherly said. “And my tagline is always if admissions is the front door then the CSD should be, well, the CSD is the family den… It was more of a coming in to your business and leave. And we really grew it to be a family atmosphere where students could do all of the above.”
She added that since moving from Campus Center to the Sadler Expansion this year, the CSD has received even more foot traffic and engagement. Still, Weatherly is working to bring in more students.
“The center is for everyone. And I think sometimes people think they’re being disrespectful if they’re not African American or Latinx or LGBTQ+ or APM and that’s not the case. We want to have rich dialogues and we want to hear from everyone and you can’t learn about one another if you’re not at the table. So I think that’s one of the things we’re really working hard on, drawing everybody into the center.”
“The center is for everyone,” Weatherly said. “And I think sometimes people think they’re being disrespectful if they’re not African American or Latinx or LGBTQ+ or APM and that’s not the case. We want to have rich dialogues and we want to hear from everyone and you can’t learn about one another if you’re not at the table. So I think that’s one of the things we’re really working hard on, drawing everybody into the center.”
Leading these kinds of dialogues is one of the most enriching aspects of Weatherly’s responsibilities at the College.
“When we do diversity inclusion workshops, I really love those as an opportunity really to engage with the students and really help them understand diversity and help them promote that within their own organizations,” she said.
Some of Weatherly’s favorite moments of the job include organizing events for cultural heritage months and getting covered in smoke grilling at the CSD’s annual block party.
On a larger scale, Weatherly hopes the CSD and the College can serve as an example for diversity in higher education.
“I would like the center to be on the national front of whatever we do,” Weatherly said. “People go to our websites like, ‘What’s William and Mary doing? What’s their center of diversity doing?’ To be on the cutting edge, I think, to grow our programs and to make sure that diversity is in every office, it’s just not the work of the center, diversity and inclusion is living within the fabric of William and Mary.”
Nevertheless, everything Weatherly does still falls back to the students.
“When students graduate and we’ve been with them for three or four years and they come and just say, ‘Thank you, something you said to me or something you did for me helped me. It saved me. It kept me from transferring. It kept me coming back after maybe mental health or family challenge.’ And we didn’t even know,” Weatherly said. “So I think it’s that we make a big impact with just the smallest things. And that’s worth everything. That’s why I’m here. I always tell people this is not a job, it’s a career. I really love what I do, and I’m passionate about helping students achieve their goals,” Weatherly said.