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“Students just want to be heard”: Interim Dean of Students Cedric Rucker on his commitment to the student experience

Rucker spoke on the important of building relationships with students, faculty and fellow administrators at the University

To Rucker, the next Dean of Students has to be front-facing to the University.
To Rucker, the next Dean of Students has to be front-facing to the University.

Interim Dean of Students Cedric Bernard Rucker spoke to The Cavalier Daily about his position and top priorities since he assumed his interim position Aug. 1. Here are his thoughts on challenges he has faced so far, rewarding experiences and what ultimately brought him back to Charlottesville. 

Rucker said he was drawn back to the University in November 2022 after he retired in June 2022 from his position as associate vice president for student affairs and dean of student life at his alma mater, the University of Mary Washington. Ultimately, Rucker said the chance to contribute to the University community motivated him to return to Grounds after so many years, especially after the tragic shooting last November that left three students dead and two injured. 

The role has seen an unusual amount of turnover in the past few years — previous Dean of Students Allen Groves served in the role for 14 years before he left the University in 2021, and Rucker’s replacement will be the fourth person to fill the role since. Rucker replaced Robyn Hadley, who held the position for two years in addition to her role as vice president for student affairs. 

“This is a place I care very much about,” Rucker said. “I'm a product of this institution, and coming back and being able to work with and support students after all of the events of last fall, that was the drawing card.”

To Rucker, the next Dean of Students has to be a front-facing part of the University. The search for both the dean of students and the vice president for student affairs — currently held by Christopher Holstege — is underway, according to Rucker, who said he participated in the talent acquisition process alongside many other people from across the University.

Rucker said he believes that the job is not just about policy and attending meetings, but interacting with students, engaging with the community and understanding what makes the University unique — like the University’s tradition of student self-governance.

Rucker worked at the University in the admissions department from 1983 to 1989 while receiving his Master’s in sociology. Rucker then returned to UMW, where he filled several positions — most notably, he served as the dean of student life and associate vice president for student affairs. Recognized by the community for his years of service to UMW and his impact on the lives of many students, UMW’s University Center was renamed the Cedric Rucker University Center upon his retirement in June 2022.

After retiring, Rucker said that he had intended to join the Peace Corps, but changed his plans — ultimately deciding to return to the University in November 2022 as Senior Associate Dean for the Office of African American Affairs.

In new position as Dean of Students, Rucker said his series of informal conversations with students as part of the “Hoos got a moment?” campaign has been an important initiative for him. He said these conversations have allowed him to learn more about student life, including the challenges that students face as well as the exciting activities they participate in.

“Students just want to be heard,” Rucker said. “Folks talk about community and folks talk about the sort of activities they've been able to get engaged in it. I find out about all of the organizations that students have joined and the reason that they have sought them out.”

In addition to conversations with students, developing strong relationships with faculty and administration has been Rucker’s top priority this semester. 

Sometimes he said he finds himself attending four or five events over the course of an evening, including formal events or meetings across multiple schools. Rucker said that this is because the size of the University, particularly in comparison to UMW, makes connecting with students especially important and more challenging, as students are less concentrated. 

“Being intentional about making connections is something that I could do a lot more casually in a smaller place because all I had to do is walk out and sit on a bench and there were folks around,” Rucker said. “At U.Va. I have to move around.”

Rucker said that although he’s looking forward to eventually transitioning his position to a permanent dean, he needs to remain focused on the present challenges. 

To Rucker, success in his interim position would be hiring a permanent replacement who continues University traditions, is invested in the students and their experience and is able to translate the long-term “Great and Good” ambitions of the 2030 plan into tangible aspects of everyday student life.

“The [student] population here is amazingly bright and dedicated, they work really hard,” Rucker said. “And I just really want someone to respect that, understand that, honor that and work side by side with them to make sure that their journey is the best possible journey it can be.”

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