Marian Vasser wasn’t supposed to come home before earning her degree at Indiana University, but family circumstances arose and she found herself back in Louisville without the funds needed to finish school.
A friend recommended she seek employment at UofL to help offset the cost of attending school. Vasser pursued a job and was hired as a temp in HR. A short time later, she moved to Physical Plant, where she worked as a dispatcher.
That was about 24 years ago. Vasser continued her career at UofL, moving from Physical Plant to the Controller’s Office to the Career Center to the Football program and then to the James Graham Brown Cancer Center. She liked the Cancer Center job, but “needed to be around more people.”
So, Vasser pursued a job following her passion for social justice, and was named diversity program coordinator in the College of Arts & Sciences. It was a good fit, as her supervisor, Department Chair and Professor David Owen, reiterated to her often that she was doing the work she needed to be doing.
“I remember David Owen getting me involved in conversations and talking about how they were underutilizing my skills. I always felt so surprised they would come to me, a staff employee, for my thoughts on these programs. Out of those conversations the Inclusion and Equity Internship program started and we had 42 students through its five years. I knew that was what I needed to be doing,” Vasser said.
Not only did Owen seek Vasser’s input on programming in the unit, A&S Dean Blaine Hudson also encouraged her to finish her degree, which she did in 2012.
“I really started to like it here. But I started a family and my degree fell on the back burner,” she said. “(Hudson) was the driving force behind me getting my degree. He was so wonderful to me. My father died when I was young, so he became a father figure and it was his hand I got to shake when I crossed that stage. He said ‘Great, now let’s get onto your master’s.’”
When Hudson died (2013), Vasser held onto that commitment and received her master’s degree in 2015 in Higher Education Administration.
“Family has always been a priority and somewhere along the lines, I tricked myself into thinking that I had a job, so I didn’t need a degree,” Vasser said. “Dean Hudson is the one who taught me otherwise and I wanted to keep my promise to him. I got my master’s for me and my family, but also for him.”
Vasser began to look for work away from campus. However, Brian Buford, assistant provost for diversity, and Mordean Taylor-Archer, vice provost for diversity and international affairs, wanted to retain her and, coincidentally, the 21st Century Initiative sought to create a position focused on inclusivity, equity and diversity training. Vasser was named director of diversity education and inclusive excellence in July 2016.
Since then, Vasser has conducted nearly 300 workshops at units all over campus and throughout the community.
“What I’m finding is I am increasingly going into units/classrooms that have never had diversity training. So just the visibility of this position is making people think maybe we should do this as well,” she said. “This work helps people unpack what is going on.”
Vasser’s training is used by JCPS, where she conducts professional development workshops with faculty and staff, as well as some classroom training and curriculum. She also works with the Center for Women and Families, the Kentuckiana Prevention Network, UPS, Humana, Leadership Louisville and more.
Vasser’s work extends beyond training and workshops. Two years ago, she started a social justice camp on campus.
When asked how she balances being a single parent of three boys with a busy career on and off campus, Vasser credits her mother.
“I don’t remember her stopping. I don’t remember her giving up or making a lot of excuses. Is it hard sometimes? Absolutely. But at the end of the day, I know that this world is not designed to benefit my boys, so I do what I have to do to close that gap as much as I can,” Vasser said. “I cannot stop and I cannot give up. The beautiful thing is I love the work that I’m doing. If I didn’t, this narrative would be different.”
Quick fire questions with Marian Vasser
UofL News: How do you spend your free time?
Vasser: I’ve learned how to practice self care. I love road trips. I sing in my church and enjoy Bible study. The most pleasurable experiences I have are with my kids. I love being a mother. (Vasser has 14-year-old twins and a 23 year old).
UofL News: What is your favorite thing about UofL?
Vasser: There are some really, really good people that work here. I have met more people who are dedicated to their jobs, who love their jobs, even underpaid and overworked. I very rarely run into people who hate what they do.
UofL News: What is your favorite spot on campus?
Vasser: Parrish Court, where Dean Hudson’s tribute is. That is my peaceful spot.
UofL News: What is your favorite UofL sport?
UofL News: What is your favorite off-campus work to do?
Vasser: My work with JCPS. It’s our future. My generation and older will listen to kids before they listen to me. They’re able to change the climate with their peers. That’s huge.
UofL News: What are your goals, both personal and professional?
Vasser: My goal is to get my PhD, which I am exploring now. I am trying to figure out which program to pursue.
My big goal with this work is not obtainable. But if I had it my way, this climate would be such that this position isn’t necessary. I love doing this work, but I will not be satisfied until the need for doing this work is over. And unfortunately we are long way from that.