Interview transcript with BC presidential candidate, Dr. Yoshiko Harden

SEAMUS: I think we’ll start with why you chose to apply to this position. I know you formerly worked at Bellevue College and you switched to Seattle, and now you’re coming back here. So, what made you decide to apply to this position, and also, just specifically, do you have any goals you’re trying to accomplish as Interim President?

DR. HARDEN: Yeah, so I’ve worked in training technical colleges now for 19 years at three different colleges, Highline, Bellevue and now for three different Seattle colleges at Seattle Central. When I came in to higher ed I specifically chose technical colleges—that’s where I wanted to have my career and I have been an aspiring president ever since the beginning. I’d love to lead an institution. So, I’ve always been a career girl and I’ve held different roles at different colleges. The bulk of my career has been just in equity, diversity and inclusion, either direct service or at my time at Bellevue as vice president for diversity meeting and co-leading college-wide equity initiatives. And so, when the opportunity came up at Central, I just felt like it was a time for a change. And so, in the meantime, I completed my doctorate in higher ed policy and got more experience leading a larger unit. So, then I knew kind of coming up I was going to be interested in looking at presidencies and several have come up in our system in the Puget Sound area. And I just didn’t feel like [they were] the right fit. So, when this came up, I thought, well, for sure I’d be interested in the permanent position but looking at the interim with COVID and everything coming, I thought this is the time for me to make a change. And I just looked at the principles and the priorities around equity, diversity and inclusion, which that’s my background. I bring a lot of breadth and depth of experience and kind of analysis and approach to that. And I know I know Bellevue from my time there, but I also know them in the system. And I also know Bellevue has changed in four years. So that was kind of exciting to me. In terms of goals, I think the goals are pretty clearly set… You know, reengaging folks on campus, reengaging community, maybe with the mural incident. It sounds as if there’s people of different perspectives on that and that maybe some relationships were damaged kind of internally for the community, but also externally. And so just some reaching out to folks. Thinking about community, what are those that maybe we lost or were damaged and then what are those that we need? I think it also shows, you know, colleges like we’re missing voices from particular groups or pockets of people. Those would be kind of the broad strokes. Engaging faculty, and I think you would continue to have to be nimble around what are the ripple effects of this pandemic. You know, we’re in a time of ambiguity, and as I said through my interview process, I think in terms of equity priorities, and having a pandemic at this level this is like a great time to center equity, you know, and that approach.

SEAMUS: Do you have, then, given your background, do you have any particular experience or perspective on the mural incident? Are there any actions that you think the college needs to take as a result to maybe address some of that?

DR. HARDEN: Yeah, I mean, I think people of different perspectives and I think it’s hard. How do you hold multiple perspectives on something that, you know, it angers the community that was harmed? People were harmed in different ways, so I think first you have to acknowledge it and let’s focus on intent, like what kind of agents or operators or what actions were taken or not taken. And more on acknowledging that. But like, what are the impacts like? What are the breadth and depth of the impacts? And then how can we move forward to, in an inclusive manner collectively towards becoming a healthy institution? And always that goal is kind of our ultimate goal is for me, my ultimate goal is always like what’s best for students. You know, and keeping it grounded in our mission around what’s best for students and art and serving our community. And allowing for multiple perspectives. You can’t be afraid of people who don’t think like you. That’s why we’re at college, right? That’s why I think some of these things are so challenging, because for a lot of folks, this is their first moment where they’re out. You know, we’re out of our own little bubble and you come into the college environment and you meet people that actually have a different experience and think differently.

SEAMUS: Yeah, for sure. In addition to your experience in equity, diversity and inclusion, do you have any unique talents or skills or other experience that you think you bring in particular to do this college or this position?

DR. HARDEN: Well, my masters is in state development, my doctorate is in higher ed policy, so I bring that kind of theoretical knowledge, experience, learning. My dissertation was on racial microaggressions and identifying those. I interviewed black male students at my college around their interpretation and perceptions of that. So, I think that’s a framework you can bring to help identify those and help people understand some of the impacts… I’ve been leading a large division [at Seattle Central College]. We’ve had kind of budget reductions every year. I’ve had to manage that and still maintain staffing levels through reorganization. Still maintain a high level of service. Still have innovation and partnerships with things like the Seattle Promise that I participated in. I didn’t lead that initiative, but I’ve been very involved. We got more technology in the district. And I also think coming from a district I bring a level of being able to work with people at different campuses for mutual benefit. And, you know, just my own background and experience as a woman of color, that brings a different experience.

SEAMUS: Of course. Well, just one last thing, as president, I’m curious how you’ll go about making your tough decisions. Obviously, these are trying times. Do you have any guiding principles or first steps when something difficult is on the table?

DR. HARDEN: I always say, like, you need to have diverse, well-managed teams. So sometimes we think, well, we just need diverse teams. But that’s a piece of it. And diversity in its broadest sense. Right. Age, you know, sexual identity. Race. Experience like perspective. But it also has to be well-managed. You can’t just have people with different ideas. It can kind of come undone. So, I think looking at, of course, working with the cabinet and union leadership and college assembly, like what the priorities are. From my campus I’ll just speak to that. We set kind of these are our guiding principles and our budget priorities. And then this is what we share with the campus… you have to communicate early and often. People are always worrying in times of budget declines. And I know everyone’s very worried, given the enormity and impacts of COVID-19. So, I think you have to be tough, you have to be transparent…

[At this point our connection broke up, and it took a few minutes to get reconnected. After we had sorted things out, the conversation continued as follows.]

SEAMUS: Sorry about that. I think I was asking as president, how would you go about making tough decisions and what your guiding principles are. Last thing I heard you talking about was creating diverse teams.

DR. HARDEN: Well, yeah, I think you have to get, you have to get diverse perspectives. I don’t know at Bellevue how they have changed around their budget. Development or resource allocation process. But you know how we do this through our shared governance model. And, you know, we set kind of what these are our guiding principles. And then that’s what we kind of hold ourselves to. And the president and leadership have two campus forums and say, you know, this is the magnitude of the cut. This is how we know what it means for us. These are our guiding principles. But it’s like you have to communicate early and often. People are always worrying in times of budget declines. And I know everyone’s very worried. Given the enormity and impacts of COVID-19. So, I think you have to be tough. You know, you don’t have to be tough you have to be must be transparent. As transparent as we can be, there’s just a lot we don’t know because of the timing. We won’t know. They’re going to have their special session in June with what the revenue forecast really is. But we have some ideas that it’s not going to be on the plus side.