Finalist Katherine Lasher stresses student engagement in Office of Civil Rights and Institutional Equity director open forum

Katherine Lasher said her experience as a lawyer and working at Central Michigan University make her the right choice for director for the Office of Civil Rights and Institutional Equity.

Lasher, who serves as the assistant director of the office, said in an open forum Tuesday in the Bovee University Center she knows the laws regarding diversity and fairness inside and out because of her previous work as a lawyer in Cincinnati. And, with potential changes in affirmative action and immigration laws looming, she said it is on the director to make those changes well-known.

"(The next director) is going to have to get the message out about these changes," she said. "How they are affecting the university, how they're affecting our students, if there's going to be changes to our protocol, and you need somebody who knows how to do that and is comfortable doing that. I think a lawyer is a great person to do that."

Prior to joining CMU last August, Lasher served as an associate and as counsel at Graydon Head and Ritchey in Cincinnati from 2004 through 2012. In addition to her role at CMU, she still serves as a contract attorney for the law firm.

Lasher said one of her focuses as director would be to engage the student body and to make them more comfortable with the office and engaged on diversity issues.

"Our office can be perceived as not as welcoming as it could be," Lasher said. "That needs to change."

She said making the office's presence known to incoming students at freshman orientation could help make the office less intimidating and would make more students realize that if they ever have a complaint, they can file it with the office confidentially and with no worries.

Lasher said utilizing social media, in addition to updating the office's website, is key to reaching out to students and would give the office another opportunity to let students know what is said on social media can come back to haunt them.

"We have to figure out how to deal with (social media-related complaints) institutionally on a consistent basis," Lasher said. "A lot of people just don't realize how their actions on social media can affect them."

Lasher said she has been receiving hands-on experience from director Jeannie Jackson at the office, giving her what she called a "unique opportunity" to prepare for the position.

"At every level, I'm included," she said. "Anything (Jackson) is working on, I'm included."

Jackson announced she would be retiring effective May 17.

Lasher is the second of three finalists for the position to hold an open forum. Ferris State University's Matthew Olovson spoke Monday, and Francisco Gonzalez, dispute prevention and resolution specialist at the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry, will speak Wednesday at 1:45 p.m. in the Lake St. Clair Room of the Bovee UC.