UI Vice President for Student Life Melissa Shivers named Ohio State University VP

Melissa Shivers will become vice president for Student Life at Ohio State University.


Jenna Galligan

Vice President for Student Life Melissa Shivers reacts to a compliment during the University of Iowa Homecoming Parade through downtown Iowa City on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019.

The University of Iowa’s “Black and Gold Veep,” Vice President for Student Life Melissa Shivers, will soon exchange her Hawkeye colors for scarlet and grey at Ohio State University as its next head of Student Life, the UI announced Wednesday.

“I am excited about the opportunity in Columbus and at Ohio State, and I also am so thankful for the students and the ways that you all have deepened my commitment to student life as a profession, but just my commitment to being very student-centered and always thinking about what’s best for our students,” Shivers told The Daily Iowan. “You’re at the heart of every decision that I make. I worry about you when you perhaps aren’t worrying about yourselves.”

Shivers said she is excited about opportunities to be further engaged culturally and to continue her community service and civic-engagement work in Columbus. A Georgia native, Shivers said living in Ohio will also make it easier to see her family. She also said she looks forward to working with what she’s sure is “another tremendous student community.”

“I’ve felt so loved and respected by the student community, and it is one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made — personally and professionally,” she said.

RELATED: Shivers embraces Hawkeye life in first year as UI vice president for Student Life

Shivers begins working as OSU vice president for Student Life Jan. 6, 2020. There, she will oversee more than 35 departments who are responsible for a wide range of student services, including housing and dining, fraternities and sororities, mental health and career counseling, a Multicultural Center, and more.

Her last day at the UI is undetermined. The UI will conduct an internal search to find her successor.

“This place will always mean so much to me,” she said. “I’ve grown as a person. I’ve been able to really support and care and advocate and cheer on and cry with students and staff and faculty and community members in ways that I never imagined being part of my experience when I chose Iowa two-and-a-half years ago. I am so thankful for the time that I’ve spent here.”

Emily Wangen
UI Vice President for Student Life Melissa Shivers poses with her phone after winning a game of Kahoot with students at the Latino-Native American Cultural Center during the UI Cultural Centers open house on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019. The game of Kahoot was based on the history of LNACC.

Since her arrival, she has constantly surrounded herself with and made herself accessible to students — holding office hours, hosting a conversation series to learn from students, and attending events around campus.

“I’m looking forward to just spending time with folks individually and in groups and just being happy and excited for where we’ve been and where we are and where we’re going,” she said.

RELATED: New UI vice president for Student Life talks success, diversity, safety

Before coming to the UI, Shivers spent seven years at the University of Tennessee – Knoxville where she held roles including associate vice chancellor for student life and dean of students. She also held positions at the University of Georgia, Clemson University, and Georgia Southern University.

She came to the UI in June 2017 after Tom Rocklin’s departure from the position and has left a mark on campus efforts to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion; foster a healthier Fraternity/Sorority Life community; reduce high-risk drinking; and combat sexual misconduct.

“During her time on our campus, she has left an indelible mark that will stay with our students and each of us for years to come,” UI President Bruce Harreld said in a statement. “And over the next several months we will celebrate all of her accomplishments, which have placed our campus and our students in a position to succeed.”

Tab Wiggins, the associate director for multicultural and international student support and engagement, said she is grateful for Shivers’ leadership and mentorship at the UI.

“I’m really excited for her, and I want the best for her 100 percent, and I also feel a deep sadness for our institution and for the Division of Student Life, and specifically for our historically marginalized students,” she said. “I know that they’ve been hit hard by this — staff and students — and I empathize with that… She made things happen that were not able to happen before.”

Culture change for greek community

After UI students died from incidents of high-risk drinking, Shivers vocalized a need for culture change in the Fraternity/Sorority Life community to make it healthier and safer for students.

The UI in fall 2018 suspended several fraternities who were found to have violated UI alcohol and hazing policies. Members of greek organizations themselves, Harreld and Shivers have emphasized the importance of creating a greek community that upholds strong values.

“The University of Iowa is very proud of the fraternity and sorority system, but we have high expectations,” Shivers said in December 2018. “We’re responsible for students’ health, safety, and well-being, and that’s something we will not compromise.”

Since last fall, she has worked with greek-community members on a strategic plan to guide efforts to foster a stronger Fraternity/Sorority Life community.

She told the DI earlier this month that the draft of the plan continues to be shared for feedback with the UI Fraternity/Sorority Life community. As leaders in the greek community have come and gone since the strategic-planning process began, she said, the expectation will be that incoming leaders continue to share and support the plan.

“I’ve spent a lot of time, most recently, with both Panhellenic and [Interfraternity Council] over the past spring, and believe a lot in where they know the organization needs to go and the leaders who are working with them in their chapters and a part of their particular councils are also really clear about what the expectations are,” Shivers said. “I believe are working collaboratively in a lot of ways to ensure that the community can be stronger.”

Joseph Cress
University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld stands with then-new VP for Student Life Melissa Shivers during the grand opening ceremony for Elizabeth Catlett hall on Friday, July 28, 2017.

Advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion

Just around one year into the job, Harreld in 2018 asked Shivers to fill the role of chief diversity officer on an interim basis. Georgina Dodge left the role in 2017, and Lena Hill later decided to leave the UI while filling the position temporarily.

While holding that interim role, she worked with the campus community to lead a paradigm shift to think about advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion — and renamed the division accordingly. That culminated in the creation of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Action Plan that will guide the UI on advancing that mission.

“I have been encouraged by the campus community’s continued commitment to the implementation of that plan,” she said earlier this month. “As a part of that plan, the division of student life had a big role in and responsibility, quite frankly, in the student experience.”

Those efforts have resulted in an increased spotlight on the UI’s cultural and resource centers that serve underrepresented communities.

“… Certainly we want to continue to invest in them,” Shivers said previously. “How do we make sure that we are supporting the cultural resource centers and the communities that they serve and sending a message that anyone is welcome in those spaces, and that it’s a place for affirmation and for support for students on campus and a place that can be seen as that home away from home — either the home away from the residence hall home or the home where students are coming to us from at the University of Iowa.”

Wiggins noted that funding has increased for the centers in Shivers’ time here with additional physical improvements and the creation of four full-time staff coordinator positions to boost programming and better serve students who spend time in those spaces.

“She really put her investment in [diversity, equity, and inclusion] initiatives, and I really appreciate that and am forever grateful for that,” Wiggins said.

Keeping Shivers’ legacy alive

Those who worked with Shivers say her energy, contagious enthusiasm, and vision for strengthening the Hawkeye community are hallmarks of her leadership at the UI.

Women’s Resource and Action Center Director Linda Kroon said Shivers has transformed the way the division feels in many ways.

“As a staff member, I just felt she really re-energized us toward what our mission is about, which is students,” Kroon said. “That the success of our students is what everything should point to that we do, and that students are our best source of information about whether we’re doing that or not. Staying closely connected with students has really been a hallmark of her leadership.”

Kroon said Shivers has inspired staff members to be accessible and available to students and to constantly be interacting with students no matter what their official job description says.

“She’s a really dynamic and amazing leader, and she’s done so much in just two-and-a-half years of time here,” Kroon said. “She set the bar high. We are definitely a better place because of her work.”

Lily Smith
Vice President for Student Life Melissa Shivers speaks during the Womxn of Colour Welcome Mixer at the Women’s Resource and Action Center on Wednesday, Sep. 6, 2017. It was the inaugural event for the Womxn of Colour Network Series, and will feature a monthly program on a topic affecting womxn of color.

UI Student Government President Noel Mills said she appreciated that Shivers asked students to dream about what a perfect UI would look like, which she added not many administrators do.

“When I think about leaving in May, I think about what’s going to happen to Iowa in the future — it’s like when you care about an institution so much, you really become very tied to its longevity and the sustainability of initiatives,” Mills said. “I always felt really hopeful because I was like OK, well, Dr. Shivers will be here. She’ll be able to continue all the great work that she’s doing… That shouldn’t be on the back of one person.”

Someone from within the Hawkeye community will emerge as Shivers’ successor in the coming months. Thinking about who that person could be, Mills said, “I’m just racking my brain to think who could fill shoes that big? That’s such a hard thing to do.

“We should commit to keeping her legacy alive by continuing the hard conversations and upholding her vision for campus [and] refusing to settle until everybody feels safe and supported at Iowa,” Mills said, “because that was her dream.”

Even amid situations such as responding to the #DoesUIowaLoveMe campaign in which the UI community voiced experiences with discrimination and feeling unwelcome on campus, Wiggins said, Shivers demonstrated her commitment to fostering inclusion and belonging on campus.

“She was not afraid to be in the mess,” she said. “That’s something that not all leaders are willing to do. I think she was courageous and she is a strong black woman, and she was not to be deterred.”

While all who spoke to the DI about Shivers’ departure expressed sadness at what they described as a loss for the UI, they said they hoped the community would continue to build on Shivers’ work.

“By no means have we hit the mountain top, but she’s laid a foundation for us to get to the mountain top,” Wiggins said.