Justin Mallett first came to Flagstaff in the middle of a snowstorm. He took the job anyway and returned with his family. Mallett, the new vice president of inclusive excellence, jumped into the work since starting this summer. He talked to The NAU Review about the importance of understanding other people’s “normals,” how an early mentor shaped his entire career trajectory and what’s on his bucket list.
What brought you to NAU?
There was a job opening for an inaugural Vice President of Inclusive Excellence and I applied, and I was fortunate to make it to the final interview stage. When I was here, I loved it. The people were great, the campus was awesome (even though I was here for one of the snowstorms), and there were so many great things in place as it relates to inclusive excellence. My family also loved the fact that you do get all four seasons and we can actually have some significant snow. The opportunity to come to Flagstaff and do the work and collaborate with people who are all committed to creating an inclusive environment was an opportunity I could not turn away from. Also, seeing and hearing the commitment from the president was an added bonus. This was a dream opportunity, and it brought me here to NAU and I am thankful for this opportunity.
How did you get into the work of inclusion?
I owe that to my mentor, Ron Strege. Ron was the director of multicultural affairs at UW-Stevens Point when I was a student, and his ability to help students not just through actions, but by being there to listen was very impactful to me. I saw him impact a lot of students due to just being there. I wanted to be that person as well. He helped me find my calling, and he gave me a job in the multicultural center to start to hone my skills. He helped me realize my path, and I am where I am today due to his guidance and leadership.
What have you learned about the importance of inclusivity throughout your career?
I have learned a valuable lesson that I can sum up in a quote: “Your normal and my normal are not the same.” I use this quote a lot because it is important to understand that how you see the world and your lived experiences are different than how I see the world and my lived experiences. We all have a viewpoint, but a lot of times we are not able to have discourse/dialogue because our views don’t align. We have to be willing to provide the room to share different viewpoints. I have grown to learn that all of us working in higher education have the same goal of wanting to help our future students, but we may have different ways of getting there, and we must be willing to demonstrate civility in our dialogue and actions to accomplish the main goal of preparing our students for an ever-changing global diverse society. So, my most important lesson is understanding various normals.
Tell me about a significant childhood memory and how it has impacted your life today.
So, I grew up in Central Mississippi, and everything in my community was segregated. I graduated high school in 2000, and even though my high school was integrated, the prom did not become integrated until 2011. Living in a segregated community really helped shape my worldview, but it also allowed me to understand the power of inclusivity and having the voices at the table to ensure all were being supported and impacted. This really challenged me to go out and see the rest of the world and understand the impact that lived experiences have on individuals.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I originally wanted to be a computer programmer, and I wanted to create and make video games. It was my first major when I went to college. I realized, when I took C++ programming, that I did not want to be a computer programmer, and I eventually went over to communications. From there, I found my passion and combined it with my student employment job working in the multicultural center, and that’s how I became involved in inclusive excellence.
What have you been most proud of recently?
I have been most proud of my son becoming a senior in high school and is about to graduate. I never thought I would be able to raise a person from birth to the point where they are about to graduate and attend college, so that is my personal achievement. My professional achievement that I am proud of is seeing students that I have mentored doing great things. I recently spoke to a former student who is now the VP of enrollment at a college in Illinois. It is just awesome seeing former students go and do great things and they indicate that their biggest influence was you. It is humbling, but it is what makes me happy and allows me to continue to want to do the work.
What is your favorite way to spend a day off?
True Blue Fridays have allowed me to really develop a great routine. I love to watch a movie at the theater with some popcorn and soda. I then like to get my grocery shopping done, and then I hang out at home and either watch television or play video games.
What are three things on your bucket list?
- Attend a Super Bowl
- Attend and sit front row at Wrestlemania
- Drive cross-country in an RV