Viktor Kerney joins the Office of Student Life

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Viktor Kerney is the associate director of orientation and student success at Occidental College. Photo taken in Los Angeles on Monday, Nov. 5, 2018. Johnny Franks/The Occidental

Viktor Kerney joined the Office of Student Life (OSL) as the new associate director of orientation and student success Nov. 5, where he will be a key figure in managing new initiatives. According to Director of Student Life Tamara Himmelstein, his position will replace Amy Hill’s, formerly called the associate director of new student programs and leadership development.

Following Hill’s announcement to leave in June, Himmelstein said that OSL staff reallocated some of Hill’s responsibilities and reassessed the associate director position. Like Hill, Kerney will be in charge of orientation alongside student O-Core members. However, a major addition to his duties will be to develop and oversee success initiatives for specific groups of students: in particular, students of color, LGBTQIA+ students, transfer students and first-generation students. Kerney said the added opportunity to work with underrepresented students was one of the main reasons he was attracted to the job.

“That is basically coming full circle for me,” Kerney said. “I was a first-generation student of color, a queer student who came into college having no idea what I was there for. So I feel like [this position is] an opportunity for me to go back and work with that student like me many years ago, and really help them get acclimated to university.”

Kerney was previously the assistant director of admissions and co-director of student orientation at Loyola Marymount University (LMU) for three years, according to an email Himmelstein sent to faculty and students Oct. 18 first announcing Kerney’s hiring. Prior to LMU, Kerney was the assistant director for student development and leadership at the University of Southern California (USC) for seven years.

In the past, the OSL has implemented several retention initiatives — their goal being to heighten students’ sense of satisfaction and institutional attention for specific groups, according to Himmelstein. Past and current programs have aimed to support academic, career and leadership development through specialized workshops, opportunities and places for discussion: examples include Oxy Women in Leadership and the Emerging Leaders Program. According to OSL Associate Director Diego Silva, who served as the head of the hiring committee, Kerney will continue to head existing initiatives while also creating new ones.

“For the most part, he will have to start the retention programs from the ground up. I am sure he will have a lot of room to bring in his expertise, imagination, and experience,” Silva said via email.

Himmelstein said she does not expect Kerney to necessarily orchestrate all events or programs for underrepresented students, which can originate in many different organizations and offices on campus.

“We need a place that’s kind of like the clearinghouse,” Himmelstein said. “So we want [Kerney’s] role to help just be the place where they gather all the information, so [students] know where to go for support.”

Carol Beckett (junior) guided an on-campus tour for Kerney when he was a candidate. Beckett, who was also a student volunteer for orientation (O-Team leader) for the past two years, said she spoke about communication between students and OSL staff to the candidates she met.

“I feel like right now, not many students who aren’t involved in leadership positions in their organizations really know any of the pro-staff in the OSL. That’s not the fault of the OSL,” Beckett said. “But I think it’d be really cool if we could find a way to have [Kerney] have a better relationship with the students … A lot of students don’t even know where the OSL is.”

Kerney said he did not have specific plans for what he would like to implement in the OSL as of yet, but that he already had a schedule building up to meet with other sectors of campus and hopes to become acquainted with the student body as soon as he can.

“I’m very, very interested in hearing what the students think,” Kerney said. “My plan is to come in, observe, see what’s going on, and then see how we can make things better.”

At LMU, Kerney said he worked with students for orientation, but having been in the admissions office, he did not interact as heavily with them as he plans to in the OSL. He said his position at USC would lend more direct similarities with his new position, in terms of engaging with students and leadership development. Himmelstein also said that she believed Kerney’s admissions experience would help him assist students in their transition to college.

“I really miss that experience of working with students once they’re in, and helping them figure out next steps as well as what they’re really capable of,” Kerney said.

Outside of his professional life, Kerney said he also remains an active voice for LGBTQIA+ rights and people of color. As a college student himself, he helped to create Murray State University’s first LGBT organization. He has also worked with the Barbara Jordan/Bayard Rustin Coalition, a Los Angeles organization geared toward advancing the political and civil rights of LGBT people of color.

Kerney comes into the OSL at a time of ongoing changes. Silva, as announced via Himmelstein’s Nov. 2 email to the campus community, will be leaving for a position at Rio Hondo Community College Nov. 14. Himmelstein herself will be moving to the Office of Institutional Advancement (OIA) Nov. 15, one day after Silva’s departure.

According to Himmelstein, Dean of Students Rob Flot made Kerney aware of her leaving before he accepted the job.

“I’ve been in the business for so long, so I feel like every challenge is the best way for me to grow as a professional,” Kerney said. “I’m very excited about really being involved with the students — I miss that more than anything. So I’m ready for all of that, whatever comes my way.”