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Impromptu: Aarika Camp

Illustration of Aarika Camp

By Molly Englund

Aarika Camp, Ph.D., became Goucher’s vice president and dean of students this past fall. Previously, she was the associate dean of student services and a faculty member at Nova Southeastern University. We spoke over Zoom about opportunities for Goucher, working through a pandemic, and the similar paintings on our respective walls that Camp immediately noticed.

Aarika: I love that we have similar tastes. I see your painting on the wall. [Mine is filled with bright circles, while Camp’s has black circles.]

I know, I love that. Mine is very colorful.

It’s funny because yours clearly looks like the colors of your personality, and so does mine.

Ha! I hear you’re a big fan of the K-pop group BTS. What do you love about them?

I could go on for days. BTS worked endlessly and continue to do so to overcome all the odds against them to become global superstars, while never forgetting their humble beginnings and passion for the music. They are so connected to fans and don’t take anything for granted. Also, during the pandemic, they are a happy respite from the gloom of 2020.

When did you know you wanted to work in higher education?

My family is in higher education. I got my first job in housing my freshman year and never looked back. I’ve loved it ever since, and now my brother is the head of school at a K-12, and my sister-in-law owns her own college consulting firm. It’s very interesting when we all get together and we’re all talking about education. Holidays are very different.

What did you teach at Nova Southeastern University?

I was teaching in the master’s of college student affairs, for graduate students who want to do what I’m doing now as a vice president. They want to go into student affairs, academic affairs, athletics. I was teaching higher education administration, student development theory, current issues in higher education, and research and assessment.

What attracted you to Goucher?

To be in a pandemic—a lot of people are having a lot of time to reflect. I was home for a few months, working with students with COVID in the spring, and after getting them off campus, I was isolated in my home for about two months, and I started thinking about where I wanted to work, who I wanted to work with. What were the values, the mission, of who I wanted to work with, the type of students I wanted to work with? Goucher lined up with all of that, in terms of the social justice lens, the history of where the college was from. I’ve always kind of operated in a small school setting in my mind, where I try to get to know everyone.

Have you seen opportunities for Goucher that you’d like to take on?

Oh, absolutely. Because of the pandemic, there are some things that have been brought to light that we can do differently and better. There are opportunities to look at what the student experience will be after the pandemic. What things can we do differently to assess ability, and not from the lens of just students with physical differences, but how do we engage the student we never engaged before, because they may have been a more introverted type of student online?

Obviously there’s opportunities now to look at the intersection of students on campus, and what does it mean to be a Black student on campus? What does it mean to be an international student on campus? Really taking a look again at how we’re engaging students, how much more intentional we can be in regards to their student experience.

Do you think coming back to campus will be a tough adjustment for some students?

I think it depends on what their experience was at home or wherever they may have been while they were online. Some people are ready to get out of the house and be around their peers again. Some students are actually scared to be away because everything has been so uncertain. I think it’s going to be interesting in that regard. Every student is going to have a different experience.

Have you adjusted? Moving in a pandemic must have been challenging.

Oh, I love it. Obviously I didn’t come to campus for my interview. I found my apartment on YouTube. It was all about trusting my gut—I tell parents this all the time. It is about trusting their guts that they have prepared their students the best they could for college.

I’ve taught all these grad students how to find jobs, I’ve had all these years of experience, so now I need to trust my own gut. How do I do this in a way where I’m not going to meet anybody? I think I made really good decisions. I’m happy to be here.

Do you have any tips for being professional over Zoom? I was talking to a friend who keeps the screen of herself hidden from view, even though others can see it. She found it too distracting to see herself.

I think being honest with people has worked well. I was in a meeting and the fire alarm in my apartment complex started going off. I’m like, “I don’t even know where to go,” because I couldn’t go to the garage. It was loud. I’m like, “I am so sorry. I can’t talk for the next few minutes, and I’m going to be on mute, and you’re going to see strobes.” I think now we’re starting to get to know each other more because of this.

I think now more than ever, be on time for everything, just because you don’t want somebody sitting in this abyss online. People forget what time of day it is now, and start to get lethargic sitting in front of the screen.

The other part is take time to listen even more, because body language isn’t as readable. You don’t know if I’m fidgeting underneath. We have to be really tuned in. I try to keep my phone off to the side and turned upside down, because it could be really easy for me right now to be checking email while I’m talking to you. So I don’t have anything else up when I’m on Zoom because I know I’ll get distracted.