Not just athletics: Gonzalez discusses Azama’s role as Associate Vice-Chancellor For Student Affairs
In the summer of 2021, Dr. Anna Gonzalez, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, added the title “Associate of Vice-Chancellor for Students Affairs” to John M. Schael Director of Athletics Anthony Azama’s already lengthy title. Gonzalez, who at the time was trying to find her way on campus succeeding longtime Vice-Chancellor for Student Affairs, Lori White, had an easy time with the decision.
“One of our five pillars in Student Affairs that we’re doing that’s new is called ‘healthy excellence,’ right? So Anthony’s role is not just athletics — it is actually recreation,” Gonzalez said. “It’s Sumers [Health and Recreation Center], physical well-being and quite frankly it’s the mental health.”
Since her arrival on the Danforth Campus in the summer of 2021, Gonzalez described having the health and wellbeing of WashU students on the top of her Student Affairs agenda, believing it to be the most crucial issue students have to deal with. By giving Azama an increased role in the larger conversation about the WashU student body, she aims to more holistically approach the health of the student community. Gonzalez sees this opportunity as a means to erase any unnecessary boundaries between the Department of Athletics and Recreation and the responsibilities of Dr. Dougher, the campus wellbeing director. Gonzalez sees those two positions as inseparable.
“For me, it is equitably important that [Dougher], who is the Associate Vice Chancellor for wellness, and [Azama] work in partnership together. And I think on an equity level, both of them should be at the table.” said Gonzalez. “On an equity level, they should be the same. So I did it because of the equity because their roles are the same.”
Azama has been a member of WashU Athletics since July 2017, he took on the role of John M. Schael Director of Athletics. In his newly added role as Associate Vice Chancellor for Students Affairs, Azama joins a senior leadership team for Student Affairs assembled and led by Gonzalez herself.
“The transition has been unique because I’ve always been on the leadership team for Student Affairs, but I think I bring a unique perspective to that group,” Azama said. “What I have to remind myself is I can’t always go into those meetings wearing the hat of speaking on behalf of athletics, recreation and PE. I need to think about the division as a whole, and what experience that we provide for students as a whole.”
A year into his new role, Azama has pursued this collaborative effort in a way that emphasizes both the athletics and recreation part of his title. For Azama though, it expands past the athletes to the rest of the student body, and he’s made a concerted effort to develop hybrid collaborations to increase the engagement between his role as the Director of Athletics and other campus departments.
Azama noted that working with Bear Beginnings was one of his priorities to create a unique experience, expanding the experience of a hybrid opportunity. “It is how we continue to enhance the Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion work and working with Mark [Kamimura-Jiménez] of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion and how they can come into our space to do training and teachings. It’s bringing in the provost to come to a department meeting and talk about the strategic plan and the vision for the University,” Azama said. “I’m big on partnerships, to try to maximize the university’s intellectual capital to try to impact, enhance and empower our students and student-athletes.”
Gonzalez is on a mission to promote well-being on campus, and in her view, all hands are on deck. While the greater WashU community sees Azama behind the helm of one of the most competitive schools in the UAA conference, Gonzalez sees his role slightly differently. In her eyes, she sees a collaborative partner with the leadership experience needed to help her further promote wellbeing at WashU.
The Associate Vice Chancellor position may have been a transition for Azama, but it is a transition that he accepted with firm commitment, understanding his role as not only the chief athletics figure on the WashU campus but also as a partner in many areas of the WashU student experience.
“I just want to be a great partner,” said Azama. “And I think that’s where it starts. I’ve never seen a bad relationship where it’s about our priorities. I think it’s about what’s in the best interest of the division and how can they use our platform to enhance the overall goal of Student Affairs.”