Interim Chancellor Charles Robinson met with students Thursday in the Arkansas Union Ballroom for an informal conversation about student engagement, lack of inclusion for Black students in Greek Life, and Robinson’s transition to the role of chancellor.
The Student Organization Outreach and Involvement Experience (SOOIE) sponsored the event, coined “Chancellor Chats with Charles,” to give students a more intimate way to interact with the interim chancellor. Robinson began the position Aug. 16 after Joseph Steinmetz resigned June 18, citing a need to do what was best for his family and “make way for others.”
“The whole purpose of this is to have an unfiltered conversation where we talk about whatever you want to talk about,” Robinson said Thursday as he sat at a table with about 10 students.
Associated Student Government Treasurer Hanna Patel moderated the conversation. Students submitted questions online prior to the event and asked questions in person.
Jose Torres, a sophomore and SOOIE treasurer, attended the event to get to know the chancellor on a more personal level, he said. Torres asked about Robinson’s sudden transition to the position of interim chancellor.
“I was the provost and the vice chancellor for student affairs, so I wasn’t shocked to receive the opportunity,” Robinson said.
Robinson was already familiar with the responsibilities of the chancellor, so the transition has not been difficult for him, he said. However, there are parts of the job he is still getting used to. For example, he was surprised when he had a security guard with him for the entirety of the Razorback Football game against Texas A&M.
“It’s like I was Obama or something,” Robinson joked. “I said, ‘Now I know how chancellors live.’”
Some student leaders asked how to boost participation in campus events. Robinson said encouraging students to invite others is the best way. Students might not want to come to an event promoted by administrators, but they might if they hear about it from their peers, he said.
Robinson also encouraged student leaders to stay involved with their peers, so they know what programs they are interested in.
“Personalize the invitations, ask people what they would like to see happening from an event,” Robinson said. “If they add to the idea, they’re more likely to get behind it.”
Another student asked Robinson about how to make Greek Life more inclusive on campus. The student said many members in traditionally Black sororities and fraternities do not feel included by the other councils.
“I think you have to go with the willing and go to people who want to have that same unity and share that with you,” Robinson said. “And see if y’all can come up with a plan to bridge those gaps.”
Robinson encouraged students to show up for as many Greek council events as possible, to create more unity among the different councils.
Another student asked about Robinson’s favorite memory from his years as an administrator. Working one-on-one with students is the best part of his position, Robison said. He tries to walk around campus every day to stay engaged with the community and will never turn down a student who wants to meet with him, he said.
Patel thinks Robinson’s active presence on campus has changed the way she views the chancellor position, and it might have done the same for other students, she said.
“We used to never feel like the chancellor was an approachable individual that we could just go up to and talk about anything,” Patel said. “I feel like now we’re able to.”
Patel has been involved in ASG since she arrived on campus, participating in ASG’s Freshman Leadership Forum, serving as deputy treasurer her sophomore year, as a voting board member for the Office of Financial Affairs her junior year, and now as ASG treasurer, she said.
“This is my first year that I’ve actually had intentional conversations with the chancellor and with administration overall,” Patel said.
Torres had difficulty being engaged with campus last year because of the pandemic, he said. He wanted to get more connected with the community this year, and being able to speak directly to the chancellor helped him feel more involved.
“It’s definitely reassuring that I’m just a normal undergraduate student, but he’s willing to talk to me.” Torres said.
Patel has noticed an increase in student involvement this semester, she said. She thinks the chancellor making himself more accessible to students has made a positive impact on the community as a whole.
“Having events like this, for (the chancellor) to take out thirty minutes to an hour of his day and just meet with students, it’s really nice to see that,” Patel said. “At least in my four years on this campus, I’ve never seen that from admin at all.”