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Duke announces pick for administrator overseeing identity and cultural spaces, Greek life, among other areas

Washington University of St. Louis’ Shruti Desai is joining Duke as an associate vice president. 

Desai will step into her new role March 15, replacing Zoila Airall as associate vice president of student affairs for campus life, according to an announcement by Mary Pat McMahon, vice provost and vice president for student affairs.

Airall retired at the end of 2020 after a decades-long career in higher education and nearly two decades at Duke. She received Duke’s Presidential Award in early 2020 for acting as “a champion for Duke students—especially those from marginalized communities—for roughly two decades,” according to a news release. 

Desai, who is now chief of staff at the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement at the Washington University in St. Louis, was chosen by a search committee that included professors, administrators and three students—Ariel Powell, a second-year student in the Fuqua School of Business, and juniors Shrey Majmudar and Ysanne Spence.

“Throughout the search process, Shruti impressed everyone at Duke by asking insightful cogent questions and demonstrating a keen interest in scaling change, leading strategic planning efforts and shifting organizational culture,” McMahon wrote in the announcement. 

Along with her role at the Gephardt Institute, Desai is the co-chair-elect of the Asian American Pacific Islander knowledge community in the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, a professional association for student affairs administrators. 

In her associate vice president role, Desai will help oversee Duke’s relationship with student government at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Majmudar, one of the students on the search committee, is currently Duke Student Government vice president for academic affairs. 

Desai will also help oversee Greek life at Duke, which is undergoing a partial overhaul under Duke’s Next Generation Living and Learning 2.0 Committee. That committee, whose work is ongoing, is working on a new housing model for Duke.

Desai’s role also includes involvement in identity and cultural spaces at Duke, as well as performance venues. 

Desai’s arrival is another change in Duke’s student affairs division after multiple shifts over the last two years. McMahon took on her current role in mid-2019. Then, in mid-2020, longtime Dean of Students Sue Wasiolek moved on to an advisory role to McMahon, with John Blackshear taking over the dean of students role. 

In December 2020, Joe Gonzalez, formerly assistant vice president of student affairs and dean for residential life, stepped away from running Housing and Residence Life to work on pandemic-related priorities, with Duke planning to launch a national search for its next HRL director in early 2021.

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