2019–20 Annual Report - University of Houston
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Unprecedented. Challenging. Heartbreaking. Injustice. Angry.

There are a lot of ways to describe the year 2020, and few of them are positive.

No one could have foreseen how daily life everywhere would be upset by COVID-19, which forced UH — and other higher education institutions around the United States — to shift to remote, online services. Even as a global pandemic reached full potency, the death of Houston native George Floyd threw the U.S. into turmoil, as the country’s long history of racial discrimination and injustice boiled over into protests calling for a social reckoning.

The Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Services remains committed to a culture of diversity and inclusion, and departments worked swiftly to engage, empower and educate the campus community to create a more inclusive place at UH, reflect on the country’s culture of social injustice, and what that means for the future.

Reinventing Student Support: How COVID-19 changed how DSAES serves students

students walking on campus wearing masks

Everyone across the University of Houston had to move fast.

COVID-19 had come to Houston, and the city was headed towards a series of restrictions for in-person services and a move to virtual operations. But how does a university — much less one of its divisions that offers dozens of vital student support services — shift from operating face-to-face to remotely?

As it turns out: fast, effectively and creatively.

The 30 departments that make up the Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Services quickly used a variety of online platforms, new technology, quick thinking, and some creative ingenuity to provide services, programming and events virtually to keep students entertained, engaged and healthy.

Supporting students to help them succeed is — and will always be — our top priority, said Dr. Richard Walker, vice president for student affairs and enrollment services.

”I knew our talented and thoughtful staff would develop effective and meaningful engagement opportunities to meet our students where they were due to the pandemic,” Walker said.

Some programs and services were constrained with strict restrictions of no public contact. Campus Recreation was required to stop all in-person services, for instance, and Cougar Cupboard, unfortunately, could not continue to provide direct support to students. Many departments shifted quickly to remote services, with most employees — including student workers — working remotely to stay safe during the early stages of the pandemic.


Departments shifted existing services online and also created new programming to help support students, faculty and staff who might find themselves struggling with anxiety or other mental health concerns related to the pandemic.

Counseling and Psychological Services, for instance, quickly embraced an online environment and placed a special emphasis on reaching students, staff and faculty through virtual outreach programs. They launched the Coogs Conquer COVID workshop series, and as the months have passed, they’ve transformed it into the Coogs Conquer mental health series for continued support and beyond.

Both CAPS and the Student Health Center’s Psychiatry Department began offering their services via virtual sessions, and the telepsychiatry option became so popular that it will remain even once life on campus returns to normal.

Unable to hold in-person career fairs, University Career Services took advantage of the Microsoft Teams software made available by the university and created an all-new way to connect employers with students — virtually. They were so successful at holding virtual career fairs that they have even taught other universities and colleges how to do it.

The first-ever University of Houston Virtual Recruiting Event through MS TEAMS was held on May 27, 2020, with 27 companies and 144 students logging in to connect. They’ve also been seeking out new ways to not only improve what they’re doing virtually, but to decide what new ways they can serve students who are about to embark on job searches.

The UCS team analyzes their weekly engagement data to find trends, they survey students and employees, advise students concerned about the pandemic’s impact on the job market, and collaborate across campus to support students and alumni engaged in job searches. These collaborations include Campus Jobs for Coogs, Town Hall Career Development for International Students, alumni mock interviews, and livestreaming on Instagram for career advice and prep sessions.


Campus Recreation may have been closed for in-person activities, but that did not mean students couldn’t still work out. When its facilities closed in March, Campus Rec took much of its programming online: It began offering on-demand fitness, live streamed group fitness classes on social media, offered socially distanced fitness challenges, and even an eSports competition. In addition, when it came time to reopen the facility, Campus Rec spent weeks adapting policies, training workers, and reengineering the space so students could work out safely.

The LGBTQ Resource Center created a Discord server to serve as a safe space for students to interact with each other and get support from staff, and its various channels are used frequently by students every day.

The Center for Student Involvement worked diligently to ensure that students continue to have a positive experience in co-curricular learning. This included hosting many events virtually via Zoom, passive programs, and developing a significant number of web-based resources. By visiting the CSI On Demand website, students can still find a number of activities, training, and online engagement to best support their experience in leadership, civic engagement, programming, and management of their student organizations.

Transition to remote work for the Center for Student Media included publishing the last two editions of the Cougar and sharing them on CoogNews. It also provided an opportunity for Coog Radio and CoogTV to showcase their reach to the students, faculty, and staff off-campus. Coog Radio provided playlists to help the day move along faster, while CoogTV kept their on-demand movies updated throughout the summer.

After the Center for Fraternity and Sorority Life moved all of its staff to remote work, it also shifted all of its advising operations to virtual platforms, including governing council advising and chapter coaching. CFSL transitioned its FSL 101 program online, and also facilitated its Fraternity/Sorority Presidents’ Leadership Summit in a virtual format.

CFSL transitioned member education to a virtual format as well, and multiple chapters held their first-ever virtual initiations and/or new member presentations.

It wasn’t long before the University realized summer classes would need to be all online, so the division evaluated their shift of services during the spring semester and made additional improvements for the summer months including, but not limited to, online through innovative new chat programs, video meetings, and live streaming on social media.

The University’s Enrollment Services team used collaboration, strong leadership and creative problem-solving to pivot to remote services, including the creation of an online orientation that saw more than 10,000 students completing it virtually.

In preparing for The Fall 2020 semester, a complete reengineering of UH’s class schedule to offer HyFlex, Asynchronous and Synchronous options became a top priority over the summer. To remain in compliance with the public health guidelines, courses needed to be officer in a safe, socially distanced environment or virtually. The Division is very proud of the multiple roles our staff from Enrollment Services took on to support these efforts.


Every department within the Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Services made plans to reopen for in-person services for the fall 2020 semester, although many operate at reduced staffing to ensure that employees remain safe. Virtual services will also continue to be standard until life on campus returns to normal.

But many departments focused on keeping some UH traditions alive, despite the pandemic.

For instance, UH Weeks of Welcome, one of the university’s longest-standing traditions, welcomed thousands of new and returning students in an entirely new way. For the first time ever due to COVID-19, UH Weeks of Welcome was almost entirely virtual. From digital scavenger hunts like Exploring the Powerhouse to talent shows like Coogs Got Talent to virtual student organization fairs and Greek-A-Palooza, students were able to learn about UH, campus resources, and a myriad of ways to Get Involved in a fun, highly engaging manner.

Weeks of Welcome kicked off with a socially distant screening of the blockbuster film Birds of Prey. From there, UH’s top student DJs battled for the honor of opening for EDM sensation Krewella in a UH-exclusive virtual concert. Students ‘laughed their masks off’ with hilarious performances from SNL comedians Melissa Villasenor and Chris Redd. UH Weeks of Welcome was capped off with an amazing performance from hip-hop artist Rico Nasty.

“Our staff has learned a great deal about themselves over the last couple of months, said Dr. Daniel Maxwell, associate vice president for student affairs. “In addition, they have found new and innovative ways to meet our students where they were during this pandemic. I am not sure what the ‘new normal’ maybe when this pandemic concludes, but I am confident that we will continue to support student success in ways that positively impact our students’ experience at the University of Houston.”

DSAES responds to the call for social justice

Black Lives Matter

George Floyd was not the first. But his death is what made the country boil over.

Before Floyd was killed during an arrest on May 25, 2020, there was Ahmaud Arbery in February, and Breonna Taylor in March. All people of color killed under unconscionable circumstances. But the video of Floyd with a police officer kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes — resulting in his death — spurred a nationwide call for a social reckoning.

Protests erupted around the United States — and spread internationally — against the use of excessive force by police against Black citizens and the lack of police accountability.

There was a lot of anger, but also sadness and confusion. And at UH, questions rose about the university’s role in helping create a more diverse and inclusive world, and a safe and equitable place for Black and Brown employees.

Shortly after Floyd’s death, the Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Services’ senior leadership team had a candid conversation about the impact and trauma associated with incidents like the one that killed the Houston native, and Black and Brown staff revealed they were often frustrated at work because of things and situations pertaining to their racial identities.

Varselles Cummings, director of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion at DSAES, had only been with the University of Houston for four months when Floyd was killed. But he could see from the discussions that took place within the division that they “highlighted areas where there may be gaps in knowledge, understanding and action as it pertains to racial justice.”


Diversity and inclusion have long been key values held by DSAES — it’s one of the six values the division is committed to as part of its mission. “We celebrate diversity and embrace the intentional inclusion of all experiences and cultures while fostering a welcoming and opening community,” is a value woven throughout the division’s ethic of care.

Beginning in 2017, CDI has offered the Intercultural Development Inventory, a cross-cultural assessment of intercultural competence. In 2018, Dr. Richard Walker, vice president for student affairs and enrollment services, recommended that everyone in every DSAES department participate in IDI. This resulted in 30-45 minute individual debriefs with each DSAES team member who participated.

Cummings said he believes these assessments helped some departments, who changed policies or added new programs as a result of what they learned.

It created a diversity and inclusion committee in 2018 to develop division-wide training, education, facilitated conversations and resources related to diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice.

Other efforts include the creation of the Las Comadres College Mentoring Program, a pillar program within the Urban Experience Program that connects first-generation Latina students with Latina faculty and staff to foster meaningful relationships between them. CDI has also hosted a Speaker Series, holds regular workshops and training on campus and hosts the Diversity Institute, an annual one-day conference for students, faculty and staff to enhance their cultural knowledge.


DSAES departments launched a number of initiatives in the wake of the senior leadership conversation and the national calls for social justice. Many of these initiatives were held virtually because of the pandemic.

  • Dr. Walker and the entire executive leadership team sent a letter to all DSAES staff that stressed that UH’s campus culture is one of diversity and inclusion, and that our mission is to always empower, engage and educate so the Cougar community can fight for progress and change. It called on staff to reflect on their own unconscious and conscious biases and take part in upcoming workshops. But the letter also encouraged staff who were struggling with their health and well-being to seek out the resources available on campus or through UH’s benefits to help ease those burdens.
  • The DSAES Action Committee was created to implement quick, immediate action to address those concerns revealed by Black and Brown staff. This committee has now been absorbed into the DSAES Diversity and Inclusion Committee, which announced this summer a number of goals it wishes the Division to accomplish by the end of 2022.
  • DSAES departments have been holding their own conversations or events internally with staff to discuss diversity, social justice, racial inequality, equity and inequity, including hosting weekly “Tea Tuesdays” to discuss racial injustice issues. The Student Centers staff, for instance, has had monthly meetings since June dedicated to conversation and education around diversity, equity and inclusion. Campus Rec has held weekly talks, and it incorporated diversity and inclusion into its virtual staff training for student employees this year.
  • Counseling and Psychological Services, with Cummings’ help, created an internal survey to determine areas of improvement for CAPS staff with regards to diversity, equity and inclusion.
  • The Center for Fraternity and Sorority Life reframed its presidents’ leadership summit to have one of four modules focus on building anti-racism and inclusion within the FSL experience.
  • The Children’s Learning Centers created online resources through Microsoft Teams to focus on different aspects of diversity and inclusion, including how to talk to children about race and racism, equity and the role of childcare, and culturally appropriate positive guidance for young children.
  • The Women and Gender Resource Center focused THE HIVE Summer Knowledge Club on Black and Latine authors who address the intersection of race and gender.

Importantly, the Center for Diversity and Inclusion hosted two Campus Conversations following Floyd’s death: one for students, and one for faculty and staff. Almost 300 people attended these events, which was created to provide some historical context to Floyd’s murder, “but also served as a processing space,” Cummings said.

CDI also hosted a workshop in July to provide tips on how to have conversations about race, with 160 participants from UH. Attendees from these events had positive feedback about how much they helped, Cummings shared, with one attendee writing, “Thank you for this. More of this. It is the only way we will evolve as a Tier One university, community and country.”

CDI’s work hasn’t stopped there. It has done 15 consultations on campus with faculty and staff groups to open a dialogue about race, and it has also trained more than 400 UH student athletes in an annual diversity and inclusion training after UH Athletics added them to the roster of annual training.

Cummings said it’s difficult to say how UH compares to other universities in its efforts to fulfil its mission of diversity and inclusion, or even to compare how divisions and colleges on campus compare to each other. Diversity, equity and inclusion work is decentralized at UH, he said, but he’s seen some great work being done on campus.

“The work of diversity, equity and inclusion is not about who is doing it better or comparing who does what,” Cummings said. “It is about the collective effort of everyone from the Chancellor on down to ensure that UH is not only comfortable being one of the most diverse institutions, but leveraging that diversity to create and maintain inclusive environments. It is about being equity-minded and the institution’s ability to call attention to patterns of inequity in student outcomes and critically reassess our practices.”

By the Numbers

On March 23, 2020, when the UH campus moved to remote operations, each department in the Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Services quickly adapted, using a combination of software like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, as well as social media platforms, to continue serving the UH community. These are examples of the ways our departments achieved remote success during the COVID-19 pandemic.