Addison Keegan-Harris: Leadership is a Practice, Not a Title – 40U40

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By Evan C. Loving

In the ever-evolving landscape of diversity, equity, and inclusion at the University of Kansas (KU), Director of Strategic Initiatives Addison Keegan-Harris offers her strategic leadership to empower KU’s campus community.   

“In my role, I offer strategic leadership to our Vice Provost of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging. This is our first non-Interim since 2019, so the office is settling into a new normal and envisioning the future,” she explains. “I manage projects to educate our campus (I trained nearly 300 staff and faculty members this past year) and to make structural change (developing mandatory training policies, reevaluating all-gender restroom locations, supporting Native and Indigenous communities through repatriation, etc.).” 

Keegan-Harris describes her role as “a mixed bag” and that’s exactly what she enjoys most about it. “I get to work with a lot of different people to make changes that will ultimately have a big impact,” she says. 

An important, yet difficult aspect of any strategic initiative is maintaining a clear vision of whom you’re serving. “In my professional role, sometimes I lose sight of community engagement,” she admits. “It is really to think about it narrowly on a university campus – the community is our students, staff, and faculty.” 

“But the community is much more than that,” she continues. “So, I try to stay up to date on current events in my local area and follow activists and advocates from systemically oppressed backgrounds online. Even though they may not be in close physical proximity to me and my organization, it is essential that I understand and engage with them too. I anticipate that this next decade of my life will be about exploring how I want to exist and positively contribute, in community.” 

When reflecting on the meaning of leadership in her life and role, Keegan-Harris states: “To be an effective leader means recognizing that leadership is a practice, not a title or position of authority. Specifically working in higher education – and in the “DEI” space – effective leadership requires compassion, thoughtfulness, self-awareness, strategic thinking, and a commitment to justice above all else. I think of the mentors from my late-20s who showed me that being an effective leader sometimes means saying: ‘Let me think about this.’” 

“I also think about the women of color who mentored me in graduate school – they showed me that it was possible to be serious, knowledgeable scholars. AND it was possible – it was beautiful and liberating – to be gracious, to share a meal, to play a board game, to be yourself.  

To those leaders, friends, and mentors who modeled what it means to be courageous and to truly live your values, even when you have everything to lose, thank you. I’m endlessly grateful.” 

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