Lead with Love

NVC Leadership Message: 
Dr. Russ Frohardt, NVC Dean for Academic Success

Several Northwest Vista College and Alamo Colleges District colleagues and I had the privilege of attending the Ruffalo Noel Levitz (RNL) enrollment management conference in July in Nashville, Tennessee. Brandon Fleming, the author of Miseducated: A memoir, was one of the keynote speakers at the RNL meeting and he shared his lived experience with us as inspiration to heed his advice for higher education practitioners: Lead With Love.

After hearing his story, I read his book, which reflects the challenges and threats that many of our students encounter in their educational journeys, as well as the opportunities and possibilities that we can be a part of for each of our students if we lead with love first. Brandon’s story is one of poverty, multiple traumas, involving drugs, sexual addiction, and injury (he was a division 1 athlete). He had dangerous role models in his family and neighborhoods, and when he did get to college he faced peer ridicule, felt self-pity and imposter syndrome, and cheated on assignments out of fear and lack of preparation. Mr. Fleming dropped out of college once, attempted suicide, and nearly dropped out a second time, except one faculty member reached out to connect with him personally, instead of doling out punishment or brushing him off.

Fortunately, that English Professor was one of several positive role models (teachers, advisors, coaches, mentors) who met Brandon where he was at and helped him feel like he belonged where he was at, whether that was in class, on the basketball court, or as the Debate Coach for Harvard.  They showed him empathy and grace, while reinforcing his passion, holding him accountable, and insisting on discipline and flexibility.  He reaches back to his high school coach’s mantra frequently, “We don’t complain, we compensate.” Brandon does compensate by working with his professor and discovering black authors and the Harlem Renaissance. As he stokes the passion of his younger brother and his friends by starting a black scholars program and launching an all-black debate team, he pushes himself and his scholars to intrude in non-inclusive spaces. Acknowledging the barriers that he and his scholars faced, he cites Carter G. Woodson, “… to handicap a student by teaching him that his black face is a curse and that his struggle to change his condition is hopeless is the worst sort of lynching.”      (The Mis-Education of the Negro, 1933). That purpose, and approach of prioritizing humanity, catapults his team of scholars to multiple championships at the Harvard Debate Tournament.

We have so many opportunities for renewal this fall. Northwest Vista College is welcoming a new President and penning a new strategic plan. We are welcoming thousands of students into our communities so that they can learn and grow and together we can ‘break the back of poverty’ that throws up barriers and strangles the dreams of our neighbors. I ask that we take Mr. Fleming’s advice and make efforts to connect with our students, our community, and each other, by leading with love and humanity. If you find your voice, you lift every voice.


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