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FLI community petitions for Jennifer Rolen to be reconsidered for office director

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Students leaders in Stanford’s First-Generation and/or Low-Income (FLI) Office have launched a campus-wide petition urging administrators to appoint Jennifer Rolen as the office’s permanent director. 

Rolen currently serves as the associate director and assistant dean of the FLI Office. A committee has been assembled to hire a permanent director, but FLI student leaders say Rolen was not offered a second-round interview and was removed from the committee’s list of candidates for director.

“Losing Jenn’s leadership and vision is a huge mistake, and we want the university to know how disappointed and angry students and alumni are about this decision,” wrote Daniella Caluza ’21, Kiara Bacasen ’21, Christopher Middleton ’16 J.D. ’21 and Jeffrey Rodriguez ’20 in an email circulated by FLI student leadership after it came to light that Rolen’s name had been removed from the list of candidates. 

Middleton resigned from the Graduate Student Council (GSC) on Wednesday, citing his frustrations with the Stanford administration’s management of the FLI office.

Rolen “has essentially been acting director since the conception of the FLI Office but without the title or the pay,” the email reads, calling her “the backbone for all the events and programming that the FLI Office has put on.”

Students were urged to write messages to Stanford administrators advocating for Rolen’s appointment, in addition to signing a petition  — which currently has more than 800 signatures — demanding that student voices be given more weight in the selection process. 

Rolen declined The Daily’s request for comment, citing her desire to maintain the integrity of the hiring process. 

“The first round included a very strong pool of candidates,” wrote Student Affairs spokesperson Pat Harris in an email to The Daily. “Decisions were made after due consideration and careful deliberation. The search committee is composed of thoughtful people who care deeply about FLI students at Stanford.” 

The Diversity and FirstGen (DGen) Office was created in 2012, but it split into separate branches for FLI and diversity education two years ago. Since then, Rolen has been the primary leader advancing the FLI Office’s mission, according to Middleton, who is also co-president of Stanford FLI Alumni Network. 

“When the position was opened in November for director, we kind of assumed that Jennifer Rolen would have that position of being the director because effectively she’s led our office — and, we believe, quite successfully,” Middleton said.

Students cited Rolen’s leadership on cornerstone FLI initiatives, most notably FLI Office’s library (FLIbrary) and FLI Student Orientation (FLI-SO).

“None of this came from the University waking up one day and saying, ‘Oh, FLI students should have this,’” said Kiara Bacasen ’21, co-president of the FLI Partnership (FLIP) student organization. “It was all either FLI-student-led, or Jenn went out and found the money, or a combination of both.”

Since Rolen would no longer be serving as acting director in her current role, she would no longer be responsible for driving and creating the mission and vision of the FLI program, according to Middleton, who called Rolen “the heart of our community.” 

“She’s truly just accomplished a lot in terms of bringing about programming that’s made a difference in FLI students’ lives,” he said. 

Letters supporting Rolen have been sent to administrators and have so far received short responses, most of which emphasized the administration’s trust in the hiring committee’s judgment, according to Middleton. 

“If you can’t even respond with a unique email, how are you going to, with this new director, ensure that the unique needs of FLI students are being met?” he asked. 

Students are requesting a town hall meeting with University officials to provide insight into the committee’s decision-making and make such hiring decisions more accessible to the student body. 

“The next round of interviews will include opportunities for more students, faculty and staff to meet the candidates and provide feedback,” Harris said of the selection process. “In addition, Associate Vice Provost for Inclusion, Community and Integrative Learning Emelyn de la Peña will be inviting concerned students to meet with her and others involved in the search process.”

Undergraduate Senate Chair Munira Alimire ’22 has introduced a resolution in support of Rolen’s candidacy. 

“We’re hoping that if we’re able to pass this resolution, we’ll be able to show the committee that Jenn is the person the students want — and if not, we can encourage the committee to explain the rationale they have behind the decision they make,” Alimire wrote in an email to The Daily.

“I’m hoping they understand this resolution comes from the same values Stanford has talked about in their ‘Most Important Work,’” Alimire added, referring to Vice Provost of Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole’s mission statement, which entails values like equity and inclusion.

“Especially in spaces like community centers and the FLI Office, we need people who are here for the students,” Alimire wrote, “and I’m hoping the [administrators] involved in this decision see that.”

A previous version of this article claimed that Rolen was involved in establishing the Leland Scholars Program, which in actuality is under the purview of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education. The Daily regrets this error.

Contact Esha Dhawan at edhawan ‘at’ stanford.edu and Grace Carroll at gac23 ‘at’ stanford.edu.