Justin Henry ’18, Marketing major and executive vice president of the Student Government Association, sat down with Dr. Darrell P. Wheeler, Iona’s new provost, to get to know him and help introduce him to the Iona community.
What are you most looking forward to in your new role as provost?
I’m looking forward to learning more about the Iona community and the students we’re centered around. I want to find new pathways in which the College can continue to support the student mission. I’m also very interested in continuing to develop strong relationships with our New Rochelle community. Iona has great resources — our intellectual engagement, our student body and our creative activities — and I want to help bring those resources into the community because I believe that is the future of the academy.
What challenges do you think you’ll face?
There are always going to be challenges no matter where you are. There are financial realities and political realities on college campuses and in the world around us. There are critical issues such as substance abuse and the #MeToo movement. We have to be ready to address the many issues that students are facing. Then there are the day-to-day challenges, such as how to balance the books and make critical adjustments when they are needed. The important thing is that we be equitable and inclusive as we face challenges. That is an opportunity, as well as a challenge.
How do you approach challenges?
When asked if I see the glass half-full or half-empty, I take the engineer’s approach: I redesign the glass. Why be bound by half-full or half-empty? We should be innovating and looking for better ways to meet challenges and not be constrained by the cup that’s in front of us. In trying new things, we have to also be willing to be wrong because sometimes getting it wrong ultimately leads us to the solution. I try to embrace and model that.
What do you want the students to know about you?
I have a humorous side. I’m usually pretty lighthearted about things. I don’t feel like I have a job; I haven’t had a job in 30 years. I have a lifestyle that engages me and gives me opportunities to touch and transform both myself and those people I work with, which is a blessing and a privilege.
Do you have any daily habits that keep you going?
I am remarkably structured in my routines. One of the first things I’ll be looking for is a gym to join. I’m old enough that if I don’t get to the gym things will stop working. I’m Catholic and I have a deep relationship with my faith, so every morning I start off with some scripture readings and some quiet time before food or coffee.
Tell us a little about your research in mental health.
I’ve built my academic career around health and mental health inequities and disparities, most specifically around HIV-related research. I graduated from college in 1981 at the beginning of the HIV epidemic, and came out of my Ph.D. program in 1992, the year Magic Johnson identified as being HIV positive. Seeing the disparities in treatment really pushed me to engage in HIV prevention and intervention research.
I’ve done funded research and professional practice within many diverse communities throughout my professional career. I am very proud of these experiences, as they have given me an opportunity to give back to many communities that I am part of and that I am privileged to engage with. I believe my indigenous knowledge of these communities has been helpful in advancing research, practice and social justice agendas.
How will your research impact your work as provost?
I’ve had a really blessed career in terms of service and professional engagement, so I never want to see myself totally disconnected from my academic scholarship. In fact, in my briefcase right now is a manuscript that is due to the editor tomorrow.
I still write and I like to model that kind of behavior so a future scholar like yourself can see that you can balance your interests. Without being a strong academic, strong administrator and a good human, my role or relationship here won’t have the balance it needs.
What attracted you to Iona?
I’ve known about Iona since I was here 20 years ago and did a presentation for the Social Work Department. In the recent interview process for the role of provost, a couple of things really attracted me: the mission focus of the Christian Brothers and the Catholic tradition of educating in faith, and President Nyre’s vision for the College.
What were some of your first impressions of Iona?
The search committee of faculty and students had palpable enthusiasm that rubbed off on me right away. It felt like this is the kind of place you can really get your arms around and become a part of and hopefully offer something. It felt like a good opportunity at this moment in my life.