Thursday, March 30, 2023

UM Names New Head of Equal Opportunity and Regulatory Compliance

By Shea Stewart

Univeersity of Mississippi

Kimberly DeVries has been hired as the new director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Regulatory Compliance at the University of Mississippi.

Kimberly DeVries has been hired as the new director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Regulatory Compliance at the University of Mississippi.

Formerly director of Equal Opportunity Compliance at Grand Rapids Community College in Michigan for the past six years, DeVries joins the university on Aug. 2.

“I’m very much looking forward to working with the other professionals within the office,” said DeVries, who earned both her bachelor’s degree in political science and telecommunications and her law degree from the University of Georgia. “I think offices who do this work have such a great opportunity to respond to particular concerns and help resolve conflicts at the same time that we advocate for equity throughout the university.”

The Office of Equal Opportunity and Regulatory Compliance is responsible for the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the university’s affirmative action program and ensuring compliance with federal regulations regarding the fair treatment of faculty, staff and students. 

The office ensures equal employment opportunity and equal access to quality education for students. The office also investigates complaints of discrimination and serves as a liaison between the university and federal enforcement agencies concerned with equal opportunity and non-discrimination.

“The director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Regulatory Compliance is a critical position at our university,” Provost Noel Wilkin said. “Kimberly brings many years of experience as a director, a valued perspective to the work of the office and a firm understanding of every area of responsibility within the realm of the office.”

With the June 30 retirement of Gene Rowzee, interim director of Equal Opportunity and Regulatory Compliance, or EORC, Honey Ussery will serve as interim director until Aug. 2. Ussery is the assistant director of EORC and Title IX coordinator, a position that oversees university compliance with the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs and activities.

“I am grateful to Gene Rowzee for his years of service to the university and his interim leadership of EORC,” Wilkin said. “I wish him the best in retirement. I am also grateful to Honey for her willingness to serve as interim director in July.”

Advocating for Students and Employees

At Grand Rapids Community College, DeVries managed Title IX compliance, Americans with Disabilities Act compliance and Equal Employment Opportunity compliance for the college of roughly 12,000 students and more than 600 faculty and staff.

“The position I had at Grand Rapids Community College was a new one to the college when I arrived,” said DeVries, who joined the college in August 2015. “We were able to be creative in our approaches to Title IX and sexual misconduct, and I’m really proud of some of the things that I was able to be a part of there, such as establishing a Title IX team; training investigators, advisers and deputy coordinators; and implementing policies that allow for equitable responses when concerns arise.”

Reporting to the college’s general counsel, DeVries responded to complaints from students and employees; conducted and managed investigations; planned and implemented trainings on ethics, Title IX, accessibility and other topics; and managed the college’s Ethics Hotline, among other duties.

She also worked with external agencies, such as the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, and formulated and updated college policies addressing such areas as sexual misconduct, disability, equal opportunity and a new Title IX policy.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, DeVries was a member of the college’s COVID-19 response team and wrote its policy on face coverings.

When she first joined Grand Rapids Community College, its Transgender Equal Opportunity policy was new. DeVries listened to student concerns and worked with campus partners to improve processes under the policy.

“We were able to have a lot of conversations – through focus groups, training sessions and one-on-one with folks who were impacted by our policies,” said DeVries, whose leadership roles at the college included being a member of the Ethics Committee and Strategic Leadership Team. 

“One student told me they chose Grand Rapids Community College because we had a policy that would allow them to use their correct name on campus, as opposed to their legal name. That was a huge affirmation for me, and I’m proud I was able to be a part of that work to make that a reality for the student.”

Introduction to Legal Work

After earning her Juris Doctor from the University of Georgia in May 2007, DeVries, a native of Haddock, Georgia, worked for nearly four years as an assistant public defender for the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida, which serves the Orlando metropolitan area.

She represented clients involved in misdemeanor and felony cases – from arrest to trial – and probation violations.

“I was lucky enough to find my way to law school even though I didn’t have a lifelong aspiration to be a lawyer,” DeVries said. “Law had always interested me and been in the background, and my initial plans fell through at the same time that law school became a real possibility. 

“When I was in law school, I was enrolled in several clinical courses; one of them was in the public defender’s office. I figured out there was something about this work that called to me – the work of advocating for a person who was in a difficult situation – and throughout my career as a public defender, and then working later in family law and other civil cases, that interest in advocacy broadened into an idea of advocating for equity and giving people an opportunity to be truly heard and listened to.”

In 2011, DeVries and her husband, Robert, moved to Mississippi as Robert pursued his doctorate in forest resources with an emphasis in fisheries at Mississippi State University. DeVries said her family, which includes three children, is excited about returning to the state.

“Many of our friends joked that people left Mississippi, but they always came back, so part of me always expected we’d find our way back to Mississippi,” she said. “There’s something about Mississippi that I connect with. While we do have plenty of work to do in this state, I love Mississippi and am very excited that our family found our way back so soon.”

During her first stint in Mississippi, DeVries worked as a staff attorney for North Mississippi Rural Legal Services, a nonprofit that provides free, civil legal services and representation to the poor, the elderly and the disabled.

And between North Mississippi Rural Legal Services and Grand Rapids Community College, DeVries was a law fellow in Mississippi State University’s Office of the General Counsel – a position that introduced her to higher education legal work.

“I’ve had an opportunity to advocate for individuals and for equitable processes in a variety of settings, but higher education is my favorite place to do this work,” DeVries said. “In this setting, there’s an ultimate goal of learning and improvement, even in the difficult conversations and moments of accountability.

“I enjoy engaging with people to improve processes, widen perspectives and move collectively forward on the path to equity. I just love having conversations with people – from practical questions and concerns to philosophical goals of nondiscrimination work in higher education, and hearing all the ways in which we approach it.”

Getting Started at Ole Miss

DeVries’ first goal in her new position is to continue listening, learning and building relationships. She also wants to focus on strengthening and clarifying processes and communicating them effectively to the campus community.

“My focus practically will start with compliance with the laws and regulations that apply to the university,” DeVries said. “But my goals are to be a part of building the university community that reflects the world we want to build: where people are heard, respected, cared for and celebrated.”