Will Rucker (00:03):
Welcome to compassionate Las Vegas, the podcast I'm your host will RER. And I wanna say thank you for joining us again for today's episode. Now we have had some amazing guests all season long, but I think today is going to absolutely take the cake. This is the cherry on top. We have the president of you and LV with us today. None other than Dr. Keith Whitfield. Hello,
Dr. Keith Whitfield (00:34):
It's very good to be here. Will. Hello? How you doing?
Will Rucker (00:36):
Doing well, thank you so much. I'm so excited to have you on the podcast. The work that you're doing is incredible. The fact that I can see myself in you as the president of the university is incredible. The fact that you're from my hometown of Detroit, Michigan is incredible. You know, it, it is just so many things. I I'm just, just absolutely thrilled to have you
Dr. Keith Whitfield (00:58):
Well that de that Detroit connection is very serious here in Vegas, but I think has, has added to my feeling so welcome here.
Will Rucker (01:08):
Good, good. Well, Hey, I wanna dive right in. And I had the privilege of, of hearing you speak very recently at the black legislative caucus awards and what you said, really struck a court with me about how we solve some of the challenges we face. Everyone had amazing things to say, talking about economics and the different things, but you said a key word and it's something I believe in which is community. Could you just share a little bit about how your background and your story brought you to that conclusion? Yeah.
Dr. Keith Whitfield (01:43):
You know, in, in some ways it, it comes from my being, I don't wanna oversell this of, of being a student of black life that's happened through our, in our country. And that when you see, when we have, you know, risen from the ashes, when we have overcome adversity, we typically did it as the community. We did it as when we supported others. And I think even from actually my experiences in Detroit, that some of the ways in which we were able to improve student success, ways, we were able to, I think improve opportunities for people. Everybody doesn't take 'em, but you improve opportunities. It came from a come engagement perspective of that that university Wayne state, U N L V. We are part of the community. However, we acknowledge it, or sometimes don't acknowledge it or get acknowledged and don't get acknowledged, but we're part of the community.
Dr. Keith Whitfield (02:41):
And when we see ourselves from that perspective, we can be far more successful. We can be far more impact because you've got more people sitting in the seats that are gonna be moving that bus down the road towards success. And so I am very much a believer in community. One of the other pieces and, you know, you gotta be careful because I'm a professor at heart and I can lecture if you, if you gimme too many topics, but I'll make understood. You're, you're good. There's one other point is that my father was in the military. And one of the things that I always found was is that when we went on to, you know, if we lived off, when we went on to base, you felt a sense of community because there was that unifying factor that you were serving the country.
Dr. Keith Whitfield (03:30):
And to me, it was always, you could see when you went off base, it was just, it had a different feel to it. It had that individualistic, you know, know, you pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. Whereas in the military, you are part of a greater good that works together in concert with one another. And, and it's, it's never perfect. It's never uniform, but I can, I can say that was a piece that always influenced me in terms of what I just thought, you know, as, as humans living on this planet of how, how we always do our best, we do our best. When we service community,
Will Rucker (04:05):
You just made an interesting connection for me. And this is almost a, a paradoxical connection, which is one of the key American values is individuality. And yet as a nation, we are the United States. And so there's this tension between personal Liberty and civic responsibility. And I, I really find that fascinating. I think Las Vegas as a community kind of typifies that as well, because we are a community that's couple million strong, but still very small. And yet 40 plus million people visit us every year. And so we are so global while still being so small, I just really find that fascinating. So thank you for that connection. Yeah,
Dr. Keith Whitfield (04:51):
No, I think that it's, it's a very important insight that you made is that we do have people who have been successes here, but I tell you you know, success always has a few pieces to it. A few pieces of that formula, part of it is, is persistence. Part of it is that you also have people who usually supported you, you didn't, you didn't, you know, in my thinking and, and it's, it's very much based in education. There's no such thing as a self-made manner woman, that, you know, a self-made person that we are all influenced by others. And much of that influence oftentimes can be support and it comes in different forms. I try to make it a habit of making sure when I meet people, I hopefully have something to say, that's positive. Like people say, oh, you're so positive.
Dr. Keith Whitfield (05:42):
I'm like, but I'm not being positive. Just for the sake of being positive, that person may need to have somebody supporting them, or maybe they don't even, or maybe it's even duplication of what they're having, but you never know what the potential of that person is. So it comes back to your point about, yeah, they're individuals, but they come from a community, they came from a family, they came from whatever. And many times that is what helps to make that person may not be the only thing, but it definitely is a part of the success formula. Hmm.
Will Rucker (06:15):
Yes. I'm very proud that my family has a strong history of success in education. So my grandmother, her story's incredible. She actually graduated with her master's from Wayne state. Oh. But at the age of 50. And so, you know, that, that was an amazing thing for us to see. My uncle also is a Wayne state graduate. He's now in medicine, I'm trying to get him to Las Vegas. He keeps dragging his heels, but I'm gonna get him here eventually. But you know, most of my cousins all have degrees and it it's just something that our family has been very blessed to to do. But I don't say that as, as a way to try to say, look at us, but it really to ask this question, which is how do you differentiate between success and accomplishment?
Dr. Keith Whitfield (07:06):
Wow. Well, you're supposed to be throwing me some soft pitches, man. That's that is, that is a thinker. And it's, it's funny because the accomplishments usually come from success, but you can have success that doesn't always get acknowledged as an accomplishment. You know, it's, it's one of the things, that's the benefit of community. And you started off with talking about family, which, you know, you got me thinking now I'm thinking, well, maybe I should be talking about family that we should think about ourselves as a family. Cause maybe do we think about that as a much more constructive, supportive construct, but is the idea that that's another piece of community is that we lift each other up actually, when we saw each other just yesterday it was a chance to be lifting people up that are really making a difference and not just one person, but multiple people's lives.
Dr. Keith Whitfield (08:04):
I mean, those people were at absolutely incredible who we were who were being honored yesterday. And you, you can, you can tell they didn't do it for the, a adulation. They didn't do it for, for the acknowledgement of it. But that's also why it's important to do is that people doing the, that work for others should be acknowledged. We should have that as a value within this community that we're trying to create. So that not only do we recognize those people and thank them for it, but that they serve as models for others, because if their work goes UN shown, demonstrated, displayed, you may not know that you have people that are doing that. So if you wanna do it, here's a role model for you to say, this is, this is how you do good. If you wanna do good in the neighborhood, if you want to have that as a piece of who you are or that it's important to have that as a piece of who you are, here's an example of that.
Dr. Keith Whitfield (09:03):
So holding up those examples is fantastic. The success piece of it, you gotta remember my background's in psychology. And so I, I picked it a part of it. So what does success mean? Because success can mean some thing, very, very different. I think for me, it's been interesting because people see having achieved the level of presidency as some success. And while I can say there's things that I'm very proud of, that I've been able to do the, the success seems almost for like, I'm only gonna feel successful when I can get 50% of the CCSD kids to come to U N L V and to get a degree and to get that next level of, of something too, that they're passionate about. And that, that benefits them. But also that benefits their family. And so for, for me, I measure success differently and it's always you know, striving, but never arriving. Once I get it done, then I look for the next thing. So I don't sit there and celebrate the successes, but it's, it's nice. The acknowledgement of it as well, only for me, if I can use it to be able to parlay it into doing something else. So it becomes this reoccurring sort of, you know, self perpetuating sort of theme. When you think about those concepts.
Will Rucker (10:25):
Yeah. And you, I, I wanted to say, I think you've had some tremendous successes already. I don't know if the cat's out the bag on a certain, you know, things that you've been doing, but I'm privy to some of the things that are coming down the road and things that past presidents have tried, and for whatever reason couldn't get done, but you have already gotten them done. And I work really closely with the school of public health. So, you know, thank you for all your support for that school. And just the amazing things that are happening out of there. It, it, it is in my view, something that is in an accomplishment, it truly is success. And so the other question I really have been eager to ask is coming from Wayne state, which was very much a community school, you felt like it was part of the people and U N L V still has that feel like, it feels like it's a neighborhood, which you don't necessarily get in other places when you said you yes, to accepting this role, what was the thing that excited you most? And what was the thing you were most fearful, afraid, concerned? Any of those words by
Dr. Keith Whitfield (11:34):
See man, you, you, you're gonna make me show too much of who I am, which, which sometimes it's not necessarily the, the, the best or smartest of that. And that is, is that
Dr. Keith Whitfield (11:49):
Not, not bragging about it, cuz sometimes, you know the, the, the better form of, of, of valor would be, you know, a caution, but I'm just not afraid, you know, in, in some ways. And so this wasn't some place to be afraid of this someplace to be excited about. There is incredible potential here that, that U N L V is a minority serving institution, man. And that was, I was just like when I got the job, that was maybe the first thing that hit me as such a sense of pride, that I would get an opportunity to lead a minority serving institution that I would get to lead a university that starts to look like Las Vegas. It starts to look like what our country's gonna look like that I would maybe have the opportunity to be able to help black and brown and, and, and the spectrum of colored children to be able to, to reach those educational goals.
Dr. Keith Whitfield (12:41):
So I can't even remember your question, but the instant thought that I had at first was that, yeah, maybe I just didn't have enough sense to be afraid that, you know, you, you take them on as challenges there, there was. So there's a story that I just shared with a, a colleague of mine. I just came back from a trip to Baltimore, Maryland, and was visiting Freeman. Robowski Freeman Robowski you know, straight outta Alabama young black man had got at the time that got a degree in mathematics. You know, we ain't supposed to be no good at mathematics, got a degree in mathematics, roasted the ranks and became the president of the university of Maryland Baltimore county. And, but then went on to take on and on saying, it's ridiculous to think that African Americans can't do well in stem fields.
Dr. Keith Whitfield (13:29):
So he created the Meyerhoff program with, with Mr. Meyerhoff. And it has been historically extremely in competition with our HBCUs, for producing the most blacks with PhDs. And he's just an incredible guy. And I just had a, a visit with him and I was sharing with him that, you know, if, if, if, if you know, I always just joke. And I said, well, now things go horribly wrong. I'm blaming you because this is, this is, this is a member of the community who stepped outside of himself when I met him. And he barely, he knew about my background, but he didn't know me and came to me at a time when I was looked for clarity and what my next thing would be and ask me, when was I gonna be a president? And I mean, it, it made my knees weak. I was like, what me? But then I was looking at somebody who looked like me, who was a successful president and that eased it a little bit, but I was still like, brother, everybody, ain't you, you know, this is just little old me.
Dr. Keith Whitfield (14:42):
And that, that belief really helped me to have the confidence to just explore possibilities. And that was still, I still didn't even think about being a president, but I had that memory in my mind of that. I shouldn't think that I couldn't be. And when we start to open up to ourselves to what we could be, that's what I wanna do for the whole community. Somebody was asking me the other day after we had our state of the university address just last week was saying, you know, because as you, you know, people look like you, do you think that, you know, you're going to do something special for them? Because I said, I hope so, but I hope I help everybody. I haven't got no limits on who I wanna help. I wanna help anybody and everybody that's gonna make our community better. That's going to bring a sense of having kids who may not believe that they can be somebody to help them be somebody, because that's what kills me about how sometimes we see our school district here, this large, you know, very complicated school district. There is the next astronaut. There's the next scientist to have a great discovery. They're all out there. And as a member of the community, if whatever, if me being a person of color, if me being, you know, creating a digital president that you can come and talk to, if there can be anything else that we can do, I'm down for doing it.
Will Rucker (16:10):
I love that. Absolutely love that. And the knowing that it's possible, I think opens up so many doors. It doesn't mean everyone has to be a president, but it means that anyone could be. And I think that's the thing that we're aiming at. Not that, you know, there's some still some debate around affirmative action and, and all of the things that are, are intended to make echo possible. And of course, we're in black history month. So why is there a black history month? Why is there no white history month? You know, all of those things in 2022 are still conversations that are being had, but the reality is for so long, it wasn't even possible to have these conversations and to dream these dreams and to think this was possible. So that's, I think a key insight that we want to capture what
Dr. Keith Whitfield (16:59):
My goal will to, to add onto what you're saying. There's so there's a statement by the president for Southern Nevada, Southern New Hampshire university. And I love it cause I think it's, it's so true. He says, he says, talent is evenly, but opportunity is none. Mm. So communities can help to provide the opportunity, but we have to actually do just what you said is to help people say, everybody doesn't need to be a university president. I don't look, I like my job. I don't need somebody else. You know, take my job away. I like my job. But the idea that you've gotta think about what could be possible because you may be talented and no one has given you the opportunity to be able to showcase or to offer your talent. And that's, that's what our university is for. That's what higher ed is for, for one thing.
Dr. Keith Whitfield (17:55):
But that's what we need as a community. We need to make sure that we help talented people be able to achieve the things just like you said, everybody doesn't have to be, but if you are passionate about something and you show that you're talented with something, let's not have barriers for you to be able to do that thing. And hopefully it be something that, that helps others in addition to being something, you know, for me, I love my job. And one of the things that I do that people find interesting is that I still have a tiny bit of time to do research. And it's because I love doing research. And it's on African American families. And so it, you know, it's got its own little personal appeal. So I, I apologize for interrupting. I, I just thought you, well, that was making is very, very important, which is, is that let's make sure we don't have barriers to people doing things that are based that are not based on that they don't have talent. Yeah. You know, if, if, if they don't have talent, you could see, yeah. Maybe you can't be successful there, but if you're talented, we need to give people the opportunity.
Will Rucker (19:02):
No, that, that is so rich and such a, a great way to crystallize the point where I wanted to go was around some of my, of personal ambitions, which is a world that works for everyone. And so that, you know, I grew up in suburbs of Detroit. My grandparents were in city of, but I was, you know, we're in, in Southfield.
Dr. Keith Whitfield (19:23):
Oh, Southfield. I knew it was gonna be Southfield. I, I should have told you, I should have said it before you did. Cuz that's the suburb. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Will Rucker (19:30):
But then I went away to school up north in inner Lakin, which is right next to traverse city. So, you know, six feet of snow was not a big deal to us cause we had things happening up there. But what I've noticed is the thing that has allowed me to feel comfortable anywhere is the fact that I had exposure to everything growing up. So traveling to Europe and to Africa and down the street, my dad made sure that he took me to his client's homes that lived in the mansions as well as those where he grew up, which was in the projects river Rouge. So, you know, he exposed me to the full, full gamut of human in life. And what I've learned is that people just need the opportunity to engage and to, to get to know one another in order for things to make more sense to them.
Will Rucker (20:23):
I think that our biggest problem right now is simply fear and fear in my opinion, comes from being uncertain or knowing and not having it had that experience. I was afraid of singing until I did it. I was afraid of this until I did it. And so I wanna create a space where people who have different life experiences, different perspectives, even a, a different outlook can come together, sit at a table and just talk. Do you think with your extensive background in community building, do you think that conversation is useful in bridging some of these gaps and minimizing some of the polarization we're seeing today
Dr. Keith Whitfield (21:06):
At absolutely. And, and you, especially the point that you just made at the end about the polarization, we have to learn that differences of opinion, differences of perspective have to be able to exist cuz we're human beings, you know, either between communities or even within communities, we're gonna have differences of opinion. We have to get back to a point where we allow that to be a piece of what our discourse is, but that it, it not turn into vilification of that because you think this way you are this way, people just have differences of opinion. It's always gonna be that way. If we can't get over that, we can't do anything. We can't do anything together. It's it's much, much harder to come together and that with most things, it's not that everybody has to believe one way and that we also have to be with the okay with if my way is not the way that most people think I can have my way of thinking about it, but I have to appreciate and understand.
Dr. Keith Whitfield (22:09):
And everybody else thinks this way. So that's the way it's gonna be. And we have to be okay with that. That's, that's hard to do. I think we've come down this road where that's hard to do, you know, one of the things that's fascinating is that and, and I gotta be careful cuz I know where I'm at. I'm on social media here, but is with social media, we have to be able to use it as a constructive set of conversations, a constructive way that we connect with one another rather than a way that facilitates our ability to be able to spread hate and discontent. You know, the human condition means that there's gonna be some of that in some people. But when we have the kind of opportunity that you mentioned of coming and sitting down together that's one of the things that we're trying to do and we need to do more here at, at U N L V is we've got this thing called the president's challenge where interdisciplinary groups are gonna sit down and try to work together to solve a problem.
Dr. Keith Whitfield (23:10):
So you put good heads together from different perspectives that creates better solutions to problems. And it's one of the reasons why, again, great pride in, in being the part of leadership of a diverse Hispanic serving Asian Pacific Islander serving institution. Because my belief is is that the people who get trained here, hopefully we're gonna do more and more to integrate them, to let them have their different voices, be heard that that's gonna make better problem solvers, better thinkers, better folks that are gonna work in a world that's a diverse world. Anyway. So I think that your suggestion is an incredible suggestion. It's one of the things that we're, we're trying to figure out ways that we can do more of here even during a pandemic when everybody's gonna be on lockdown and not lockdown. We need to be careful. I need to be careful of that, cuz it's still better than what it was. You know, we've come a long way, but is to have opportunities to have those kinds of discussions, you know discussions where we can talk about things from, from my perspective and your perspective and, and we allow each other to be heard just makes us, it's make us a better planet. It's gonna definitely gonna make us a better country, but it's gonna make us a better planet.
Will Rucker (24:30):
For sure. One of the favorite books I have is called building bridge, excuse me, building bridges, not walls. And it's a communications book from, I think one of my undergraduate classes like that long ago, but I still referenced it today. And the reason I, I still look at it is it reminds me of the yes and principle kind of an improv thing, but they put it as I hear you. And, but I like, yes, yes is more concise get to the point. So, but yes, and I hear you and here's what I have to offer. I think that we have to learn the skill of listening and the skill of self-regulation because in conversation there are so many different experiences being brought to the table that sometimes emotion can be heightened and you can feel as if you're in danger from losing something or having to give up something or physical harm. If we're being extreme, you are someone that understands the value of mindfulness and meditation and breathing and things of that nature. And I'm so excited to see the school of medicine and how it's holistic and integrative. And I, I mean, that's really a revolution. I think we're in a phase shift just for humanity in general. I, but from the academic perspective, what are some strategies you think we could employ to make mindfulness more accessible to community?
Dr. Keith Whitfield (25:58):
Well, one of the things that you know, the, I is always a, we, that, that we have been supporting particularly in the midst of this pandemic is wellness. And we've, we've got some incredible people working on trying to work on wellness and work on kind of, you know, make popular that mind body connection. We've got our vice president for human resources Erica Smith working on things for, to work on relaxation and, and, and mindfulness. And there is mindfulness pieces to it as well. But it's funny because it's something that needs to be taught. It's not something that you just automatically come up with. And I think that that is something that, you know, if we could try to figure out DRS of things that will be positives, that will come out of the pandemic, I'm hoping that that's one of 'em that we learn how to do kind of mental health, self care and mindfulness being one of those of, of just like you said, it, it, it goes from just reducing stress to being able to actually be a better person than a conversation as well.
Dr. Keith Whitfield (27:11):
And, you know, that's, that's not a small thing. I think that that's, that's something that's just very, very important. And hopefully that we could, we could all be able to learn, but it's, it's not gonna be easy. It's, it's not gonna be something that everybody will learn. One of the folks here at this university Annie Wiseman is working on trying to make it so that we have, I think she runs the wellness. We have a wellness center, she runs the wellness center. The she's trying to train as many people as she can so that we can spread that technique, that, that skill, because it becomes a skill. If you can make it a skill, you can integrate it into your life and you can integrate it into daily life. And I, I do tell the story of that. If you, if you see me walking around and you see me, it's because I'm doing my relaxation training, that I I've done it with other people I've done, you know, mindfulness training.
Dr. Keith Whitfield (28:12):
And I make sure that I do it myself all the time to try to keep my stress with all the crazy things that go on, you know, in sync. But I almo I notice I do it automatically. Now I've done it for so long. I automatically you've gotta train people to do it so they can do it automatically so that they can deal with the stresses of the next pandemic that hits and when they can deal with stresses of some of the challenges that come with, you know, changes in work or changes in family and all those kinds of things. But I'm glad you brought that up because I think of all of the, the mental health challenges, I think that some of folks are going through, you know, that mindfulness is at the heart of it, you know, for the stress and depression and anxiety that if, if you have some of those skills, you can at least combat it and you can combat it on your own. You don't have to even have somebody outside. You learn this as a skill, it's a skill that actually you can use when it's needed. And so it's nice. It's, it's up a great benefit.
Will Rucker (29:07):
When were you first exposed to that concept and when did you first begin practicing?
Dr. Keith Whitfield (29:14):
So it's funny. I, I, wasn't always the university president. I, I wander around through different things that I was interested in. I, I actually wanted to be a sports psychologist when I first was in graduate school and at the sports psychology, wasn't where it's at now. It was kind of really in its NAS, but I was learning lots about kind of mind, body connections of how the brain influences things and how things in the body in, in turn influenced the brain. And so I was in a biofeedback course. I took it as an elective, took a biofeedback course and learned about different kinds of relaxation techniques, and then went over to the sports psychology folks and learned about guided meditation and worked with, you know, golfers VO of all players a discus thrower, all trying in that sports realm to use the power of their mind.
Dr. Keith Whitfield (30:09):
Interestingly enough, most of it was to calm and quiet their mind so that their body that they had so highly trained could do what it needed to do without their mind changing what their performance was. And so I could see it work. I could, you know, I, I, I saw some successes in folks and then just knew, you know, life is stressful in its own. And, and two, if I'm gonna be better at it, I need to practice it. So I just practiced it. And it's, it's just a part of who I am now. And, you know, I, I, I hope that it contributes to my overall health. I know it contributes to my overall mental health, but not only your mental health, but your health as well.
Will Rucker (30:49):
Certainly I'm, I'm excited. I wish I had booked you for three hours because there's, there's so much we could get to do. One of the things that I think we've lost as a culture it's trust. And so I just looking at you, just knowing your background from the moment they announced you were coming to U N L V. I trusted you. But a lot of that is because of who I am not necessarily anything to do with who you are. And I, I give that little disclaimer to say, a lot of people distrust others, you, because of who they are and the way they would handle situations. But with that in mind, what would you say is the key to rebuilding trust in our institutions? Those that have doctor as a title, whether it's academic, medical you know, just, just an expertise in a, a subject matter. How can we rebuild that trust in communities?
Dr. Keith Whitfield (31:49):
So again, I thought you were gonna give me at least a couple of easy ones. That's, that's, I've
Will Rucker (31:54):
Got an easy one at the end. Don't worry. Oh, well,
Dr. Keith Whitfield (31:56):
Thank goodness. Oh my goodness. I can't wait to get to 'em. You know, that has so many different facets to it. That even depends on what the, what, what the goal or what the topic of the trust that we're trying to actually gain back is you know, some of it when it comes to healthcare it is interesting. It's, it's like you experience that. Being able to see people who look like us will start that trust and then hopefully having a good experience then re FIEs that trust. And so that's important, but in, you know, in, in some ways I think we've gotta figure out ways that we can better assess trust beyond just what someone looks like. We've gotta be able to use ways to be able to rely on the incredible opportunities, the resources that we have, the technology that we develop to be able to trust it so that we can actually make our lives better.
Dr. Keith Whitfield (32:57):
I got a chance just this weekend. It's so funny that you're bringing this up to see the movie, I, I wanna say it's Henrietta lax, and they used her cells African American woman, Baltimore used her cells to be able to understand cancer and lots of other things, but they were able to grow 'em in medium, blah, blah, blah, a whole bunch of science, but it was so interesting because the, the veil in the background was that there was so much mistrust because there was so many bad things that had happened. But in contrast, then even through that, there was this good that happened. And it's just, it it's just tough. I was, I was, I watched it and I was really struggling and thinking about the people that are in my studies, for example and that we have to answer questions, cuz I do work that actually has to do with genetics.
Dr. Keith Whitfield (33:53):
And basically we haven't had a good history of what people have used information on genetics for. And I have to always in, in the research that I've done and that I do, I always have to keep that in mind that just because I understand all the science of it doesn't mean that that's played out well for other people and how they understand things like I can just refute it. I, I look at some of that stuff and go, that's just dumb that, that didn't made no sense. I don't know, even know why that well, for other people it has influenced their lives detrimentally. And so you have to step, take a step back and understand it. But that, it's a wonderful movie of showing how this woman's in some ways a sacrifice that was made in some ways that they used a part of her, you know, I guess I don't want to change the, the topic of the direction, but it's that the acknowledgement, like you said, kind of the acknowledgement and success, the acknowledgement of the contributions that this woman's cells made to science across everything is, is so gratifying to see that and that they figured out a way to acknowledge her contribution that rather than it being hidden.
Dr. Keith Whitfield (35:08):
And I think that that's what we have and we're talking about black history month. We have so many contributions that have been made that the average person doesn't know about sometimes. And, and I don't know enough about everything that's gone on, but every time I learn something it's so that I take and expands and makes me look at the world a little bit differently about what African Americans have been able to contribute to science and culture and arts and, and just humanity in general. But we've gotta know more about it. And so that's what I think some of the struggle is.
Will Rucker (35:41):
I really appreciate the way you bring such a, a well-rounded perspective to every question and it's something that's a gift. It obviously well educated study, thoughtful individual, but I think you just have a natural gifting for being able to see multiple per multiple perspectives and kind of synthesize a result out of that. That's certainly not easy. But it's so necessary in today's complex diverse world. And so it makes perfect sense that you've landed in our diverse city where things are, are never just one thing. It's, it's always multifaceted multilayered.
Dr. Keith Whitfield (36:26):
Yeah. It, it, and that's, what's great about us and we gotta make sure that we embrace that. But to understand that actually that's where our strength is. I think sometimes when we think about, you know, there's all these different facet pieces, we gotta just remember that's where our strength is. As long as we can learn from each other, as long as that we can actually understand and consider us, you know, I come back to the point that you raised when we started this conversation about community, that if we, if we have that piece and we work as a community, it's a strength. If we have that piece and we work as individuals, just another way that we can be different from one another, but it, it doesn't necessarily add value. We've gotta add value in being able to work together and benefit from the lessons that we can learn from each other.
Dr. Keith Whitfield (37:07):
So I even appreciate this opportunity to be able to share with, you know, your listeners, your followers about just a few of the things that I've learned. But there, there are, I, I enjoy this because it's all things I I'm, you know, you're asking the pointed questions of things that I'm passionate about, that I've learned through both many successes and many more failures of, of, of why that diversity is important of why it's actually a benefit of how you know, I, I try not to make this too popular to, and, you know, I wasn't always the best student and I was always curious, but I wasn't always the best student. My mother reminds me. I wasn't a great test take, you know, my mother says, you know, oh, remember, but you're not a great test taker, but look, you're a president. I said, yeah, thanks mom. You know, just tell me the president part. Don't tell me the good, not good test taker, but you know, hopefully from listening to podcast as like yours, you know, people can find their own truth. People can find their own lessons that they can be able to learn because there's tons of 'em out there. You just have to explore.
Will Rucker (38:11):
When you talk about things like community, do you feel heard and just to back up one step, do you feel like when your mom shares, oh, he wasn't that great of a student all the time. Do you think that opens up doors for others to hear you that wouldn't ordinarily do so?
Dr. Keith Whitfield (38:28):
I hope so. Because you know, mine is one again of that kid in school that if you look at him, do, were you gonna say that that kid's gonna be the president of the university? Did you say that that kid is gonna be, you know, get a PhD, you know, and, and, and have success. And I don't think they would've predicted it. And you know, that may be part of what drives me to say, I will want to help all of those people, if you're a little kid, if you're an adult, but if you have a passion, cuz mine was my, my success has been driven by passion. Mine. Wasn't driven necessarily by the talents that I started with, but I figured out a way to get 'em. And if you at least have, for me, it wasn't even, it was the persistence of knowing if I worked hard enough, that's my top parents always taught me, you know, the, the Detroit my parents were from Chicago.
Dr. Keith Whitfield (39:23):
And I think there's that Midwestern, you know, you just put your head down, you work really hard. And if you work really hard to obtain it, you know, you can, you can have lots of success. But it, it, it wasn't about whether you were the, you you're gonna be the smartest kid in the room. Nah, just be the hardest working kid in the room. That's who I was. I just, I just worked really, really hard. And I think for a lot of our folks that feel disenfranchised or who haven't attained, what they wanna attain yet, it sets you gotta, you know, you gotta just double your efforts. You gotta put people around you too. Hopefully create your own community that can supportive of you rather than creating a community around you, that tears you down. So, oh, we never get any of that. Oh like folks never get none of that stuff. What about, what if, what if we do and how can we, rather than, you know, the, the yes, like you were saying rather than the I can't different conversations, very powerful.
Will Rucker (40:22):
Well, this is the compassionate Las Vegas podcast. So I have to ask you this question. How do you define compassion?
Dr. Keith Whitfield (40:35):
That's that's I'm thinking of several ways. One of the ways I think is
Dr. Keith Whitfield (40:44):
Making sure you take a moment, you know, it's, it's the age old biblical thing, walk a mile in somebody else's shoes to just, when you hear something, when someone says something, when you think of something, when somebody makes an action, take a second and make sure that you check yourself first and make sure that you're in the right space to be able to evaluate that person. That's the com and passion is to be able to say, I'm gonna make sure that I'm right first, and then I'm gonna evaluate, then I'm gonna think about what you did then I'm gonna make sure that I judge whatever action I feel I need to take based on understanding where you may be at first. And then, you know, so it's not so much about me. It's about it's about you it's or it's about us. And that that's what, you know, compassion, I think in a, in a simplistic way means to me,
Will Rucker (41:34):
I, I like that. I think that's a great way to, to frame it. Is there a place for compassion at your university? And I, I, I don't necessarily mean just with you, cause I know you're, that's a value of yours, but in, in the education sector, in the education system, is there a place for compassion?
Dr. Keith Whitfield (41:51):
There's not only for it. If we are gonna, we need to educate more people. OK. If we're gonna educate more people, we have to be compassionate. We actually have to be understanding that people are coming at trying to detain that degree from lots of different perspectives. And we need to be able to, to try to support them. However, we, we think that we can, and of course I'm a little biased, but I see it in our faculty, in our staff. And actually I even see it in students. I see examples all the time of people being compassionate, somebody's walking across campus and you can see their law from a distance. I can see their lost and seeing a student, you know, engage them and, and say, you know, it's, it's this way, that way on this giant campus that we have, that they put themselves out there, that people even feel that somebody is open to being able to help them.
Dr. Keith Whitfield (42:46):
That that compassion is there. I hope people feel that even though we are a big university, that the folks are there, we have staff people that I've got this one woman I'm gonna, I'm gonna call her out to Stephanie. And I'll just say her first name and I won't get her in trouble, but students will write and have a issue. And I'm just the president. I, I, I don't know where all the levers are. I, I ask Stephanie, Stephanie, can you help me with this? She just, she gets on it every single time. She finds a solution. And in the times when she can't find a solution, she finds a compassionate way to try to move that person into here's maybe the next action you need to make, cuz this ain't working. But here are the opportunities for you. Here are the things for you.
Dr. Keith Whitfield (43:32):
So that compassion is there. It may look different. It may not always feel like you're getting exactly what you need, but we are a compassionate university. We, we want our students to graduate. We want them to be better because we know once they're better, they make our state better. They make our city better. And actually a lot of our students, they make the world better. So we know, we know that we understand that. And that, that is I think, a value that we carry as a everybody in it's not perfect, everybody in it doesn't say the, the perfect, nice thing every second of every day. But as a general philosophy of a university, it's one of the things that makes me very proud to be at this university that I think that it is a very compassionate university in many different ways,
Will Rucker (44:18):
Hearing that I have all kind of ideas in my head. I'm gonna put together some, some sort of certificate or something. We we'll talk about it after the, the interview is over. I, I can attest for, we have listeners from all over the world. So not everyone has visited the campus, but I can personally attest it's big. And I have been lost more than once, but people have been so kind and I've even had, I don't know exactly what department they're from, but they have these little carts that you're driving around in. And they're like, here, let me help you. And, and it's, it's just amazing. And the students are also so helpful. Yeah. And I, I still consider myself a young person. So I, I feel like I'm college age, but on the campus, I really am because it is such a diversity, not just between ethnic groups or races, but in age. So it it's really a place that just feels like home, even if you're not enrolled for class. So I, I think that that spirit shines through
Dr. Keith Whitfield (45:15):
Yeah, we, we have as our goal, it's one of our missions of access and access means a lot of things. It just doesn't mean just because of your financial capability. It's also of any age that you have to do lifelong learning and mean, if you take a look at your phone from one version to the next version, you gotta learn something. So lifelong learning is, is not a, an ideology. It's a reality that everybody has to deal with. So we take a lifelong learning perspective. So that means anybody should have access to a great universe. That's what we believe. That's what our goal Liz is to have access to, you know, faculty who are these incredible minds who can share perspectives and thoughts and knowledge and information so that people can be able to consume that and be able to do whatever they are going to do with it. Hopefully be able to find ways to make their life better, make their family lives better. But it is, I, I was thinking about the cart thing and we have a lot of carts and I tell you when it gets to be 115 degrees in Vegas, I'm so happy for my cart.
Dr. Keith Whitfield (46:24):
I had the experience last year in the fall, when we came back for the first time, you know, more in person than we were remote of that, you know, I get in my car and usually somebody's trying to drive me around because I get lost here occasionally. But I know, you know, a few places to go to. So I hopped in my cart and it was maybe the second day of school. And there were people just, that were just moving down our, our main thoroughfare. And they saw me in a cart. This guy saw me in a car and he said, Hey, excuse me, can you help me? Did you know where this building is? And I looked left and I looked right. And I said, no, but I know somebody who does. I said, get in a cart. So we get in a cart, we drive around, we go over to one of the, a help, you know, ask me desks.
Dr. Keith Whitfield (47:08):
And I was able to help him, but he never asked who I was. And I was like, even because I just, you get, don't get all the, the whatever. So I drop him off. I leave him in good hands. I start moving across. And I think this young woman must have seen that he got a ride. So she's hobbling a little bit. And she says, excuse me, excuse me. I'm trying to get over to the so-and-so building. Can you gimme a ride? And I thought, well, wait a minute. I'm not a taxi. Right. But I'm like, eh, what the heck? I got an extra few minutes. I said, hop on in. So again, I said, what happened to your foot? And you know, I'm, I'm almost in parent mode. I'm like, you know, what are you majoring? And you know, how is school going so far?
Dr. Keith Whitfield (47:50):
And we're talking. And I thought about it. And I was like, you know, you just cop in this cart. I said, you don't even know who I am. And she kind of looked at me like, yeah, that's kind of a good question. And she said, well, who are you? I said, I said, I'm the president of the universe. And she almost fell out the cart. I, I, I said, look, you just need to make sure you ask what car who you get into cart with. And she was almost apologetic. And I was like, no, see, that's the compassion. This is, this is a compassion university. That's, that's part of, of the many descriptions of my job that I felt was part of my job was that I carted her over to the student center and made sure that she was off and on her way.
Dr. Keith Whitfield (48:38):
But you see things like that happen all the time. I think you see, you know, and part of it is, is that because we come from a community there's people that are hearing this that are not in Vegas. And so they have a certain idea about Vegas, but Vegas is actually a very friendly place. It has lots of other different dimensions to it. But Las Vegas are actually very friendly people. And we reflect that on our campus because our folks come from the community about 70% of our students are from this local area. We get people that are from outta state out of, out outta country. But that's part of the reason why I think we do have this compassion thing is that we have good people coming from a good place. And, you know, when we get a chance to be together, the pandemic has, has limit that in many ways. Well, we get a chance to do that. And we, I think we show it off pretty good. I
Will Rucker (49:29):
Absolutely agree. And our, our last few minutes together, I wanna know what you are listening to. What's on your playlist. What type of music is, is making you move and groove to give you a simpler, easier question. What song would you say is exemplifying your experience of Las Vegas and U N L V.
Dr. Keith Whitfield (49:52):
So, you know, well, I'm gonna be honest with you, you know, you, I was, I've been afraid that somebody was gonna ask me that I was even thinking, you know, I should just put it out there and show it so that somebody doesn't catch you when you're driving down and you got the window down that you, you know, you're thumping your beats and whatever, but there's, there's a few. And I'm, and I'm afraid to say 'em because if they, if there's some objectification in 'em or something like that, I'm afraid of what those words might be. But one of 'em that I like good or bad is I'm different by two chains. Hmm. Because I take that as you know, that's kind of who I am. I also like smile live my best life. Because I like to think about that as a, as a thing. And, and then the one that I listen to it is, it is on my morning playlist on Alexa is humbled by Kendrick Lamar. Hmm. So, you know, take it for what it is. Those are my, those are, are some of the tunes that you will hear as you see me jet here, jet there.
Will Rucker (51:09):
I love it. And I, I, I don't know those tunes. I think I know the living my best life, one, at least the chorus part, but I'll have to listen to 'em. So I don't know
Dr. Keith Whitfield (51:16):
What you're listening to, man, listen to the Kendrick Lamar humble piece because it's, it's one of checking yourself and I always believe that that's important of the thing. You know he has another one that's called a about DNA and it's about, it's about being a good person and, and that it's gotta be something that's built in you like, like your DNA is built in you about, you know you can, you can be a hustler or whatever those things, you know, sometimes we think of being born within us, but also talks about being a good person and that that's, that's just who I am that's than my DNA. The humble one is that, you know, check yourself, you know, don't go off spouting and being nasty and doing all that other stuff, you know, sit yourself down, be humbled. That's that's part of the chorus is, you know, sit down, be humble. It's an important lesson to learn.
Will Rucker (52:04):
Beautiful. Well, you have given us so much in this time together, so thank you again for joining the compassion at Las Vegas podcast in a sentence or two, what do you want our listeners and our viewers to take away from this conversation today?
Dr. Keith Whitfield (52:21):
Well, for one thing, I hope that they listen to you regularly, because what you are trying to do is to showcase and highlight the best of people. And that that's what we need probably more now than ever before. So I hope that you take from it. You know, I like to try to consider myself as a servant leader that, that what I do, I, I like to do for, for others. And that that's, that is my goal. That is my mission. That, that gets me hyped. That makes me feel better when, and I can try to help others. And I hope that they got that from our conversation today. And again, I hope that they follow you religiously vigorously to be able to learn those lessons and to be able to have their perspective, their minds, right. And, and to live that best life that they wanna live.
Will Rucker (53:09):
Perfect. Well, again, thank you for your time and for your spirit and your generosity to our community. This has been compassionate, Las Vegas, the podcast I am, will Rucker. And as I always remind you, you are not just a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop and what you do matters. So live compassionately.