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Student Spotlight: LaShae Grottis

LaShae Grottis has always been an overachiever. Whether graduating high school valedictorian, moving cross-country to attend Dartmouth College as a first-generation college student, serving as the first director of ACU’s Office of Multicultural Affairs, or pursuing her doctorate with two teenagers at home—LaShae has never done things halfway. Learn how this trailblazing ACU Online student is advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion across the higher education landscape and impacting our student body.

Diverse Beginnings

LaShae grew up in an extremely diverse area of southern California which, she said, “opened my eyes to so many different kinds of people and personalities” and helped develop a lifelong interest in learning and experiencing new cultures. College was not a ‘given’ for her—she grew up in a single-parent household and none of her family had attended post-secondary education. But, she reflected that “I did well in school and…being surrounded by other kids going to college was a big motivation and I had wonderful counselors who believed in me and made sure I was on track.”

Her comment that ‘she did well in school’ is an understatement. LaShae graduated valedictorian of her class and received her bachelor’s in sociology from Dartmouth College. Dartmouth was an educationally enriching experience—though moving from balmy southern California to northern New Hampshire was a culture shock, Grottis considered Dartmouth a “wonderful, challenging time.” Having the opportunity to travel outside of her home state reinforced LaShae’s recognition that there is “so much beauty in different kinds of people.”

Following her graduation from Dartmouth, LaShae didn’t want to stop her education, so she promptly applied and was accepted for a master’s in healthcare administration program at the University of North Carolina. Following this, she worked for five years in healthcare administration, but by 2000 she was working in a hospital in Indianapolis and was discouraged. Healthcare administration functioned primarily like a business—and LaShae felt she wasn’t really helping people.

Providentially, an opportunity to combine both her interest in diversity and her desire to help others emerged. While in Indianapolis, LaShae had befriended a woman at church who’d begun teaching as a psychology professor at Abilene Christian University. In 2000, LaShae drove down to Abilene to visit her friend and see campus—and this visit redirected her life.

Entering Higher Education

The early 2000s was a dynamic time for racial conciliation at ACU. Dr. Royce Money, then-president of ACU, had publicly vowed to build “bridges of reconciliation” and improve the university’s diversity. A notable businessman and well-known ACU alum Don Williams had just made a substantial donation to pay for students of color to earn their doctorates and come back to ACU to teach. Concurrently, ACU was in the process of establishing a new diversity division called the Office of Multicultural Affairs.

LaShae was hooked from the moment she heard about this. She’d always been passionate about diversity and race relations; she enjoyed higher education, and she had a deep desire to pursue her doctorate. So, when ACU started looking for a director, LaShae leapt at the chance, becoming the first director of ACU’s Office of Multicultural Affairs.

LaShae worked at ACU for seven years as a trailblazer for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at ACU. She felt she was truly making a difference and helping people; because, in her experience, DEI is about “letting people be their full and authentic selves.” Most importantly, LaShae’s faith inspires this work:

“The reason why the DEI work is important to me, and why I gravitate towards it, is because of my Christian foundation. It just makes sense to me that you’d want to make people feel included and belonged. It’s spiritual work. It’s about getting close to a person and discovering their spirit and asking, “How we can cooperate to move in this world with one another?” 

While in Abilene, she met her husband Sherwin (ACU ‘01) and together they had two children: their daughter Ava and son Aden. When their children were born, the Grottis family moved to Dallas-Fort Worth and LaShae decided to focus on raising them. But, she wasn’t letting go of her dream of a doctorate. 

Following Her Dream

In 2016, as her kids grew older and more independent, LaShae reentered into her career, working in Dallas College’s international student division. She worked there for several years, reestablishing her experience in higher education.

In 2020, when the pandemic hit, LaShae became more focused on her future. She realized, in order to advance in her career, she’d need a doctorate and her old dream quickly rekindled (though it never went away). And now, a perfect option existed for LaShae: ACU Online offered 100% virtual graduate degrees, and she was especially interested in an online Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Organizational Leadership. Never one to linger, LaShae promptly enrolled in the program

Advancing Diversity & Inclusion at ACU Online

Almost immediately upon entering ACU Online, LaShae became involved with diversity and inclusion work. In her first semester, it was announced that the university was beginning the process to make Dr. Jennifer Butcher the first Director of Diversity. Excited by this development, and seeing as Dr. Butcher was a professor in her Ed.D. program, LaShae reached out directly to see how she could get involved.

To LaShae’s delight, Dr. Butcher told LaShae she’d be developing a Diversity Action Council (DAC) to help advance diversity, equity, and inclusion at the university. DAC needed student representation, and Dr. Butcher invited LaShae to apply for one of the student positions. 

With the appointment of LaShae as DAC’s student representative, she was charged with forming a student organization for students of color. This led LaShae, along with another student named Traci Ramsey, to form the Diverse Student Alliance (DSA), ACU Online’s first student organization. Reflecting on the DSA’s purpose and importance to an online community, LaShae remarked: “doing online work can be so individual and isolating.” DSA’s existence is to allow “students of color (and any students that are interested in supporting its mission!) to meet with one another, form relationships, and mutually support one another.”

When she looks ahead at ACU Online, LaShae acknowledges that DEI work is still in its beginning stages. Progress requires more people involved and DEI being “infused in everyone’s job, curriculum, and work.” For LaShae, this means institutions need to be more intentionally inclusive and explore “what it means to be or feel included in the organization.” Rather than just talking about diversity’s value, ACU Online (and every institute of higher education) needs to move deeper. In her words: 

“A keyword is action. In higher education, we’re very good about talking and thinking about the theory. But the action is where the future is. Where is it measurable that we’re actually putting our money where our mouth is?”  

LaShae’s Future

For her part, LaShae is advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion across the higher education landscape through her doctoral research. She has two semesters left in course work—but she’s already authored a book chapter entitled “Black Female Leaders in Academia” and participated in conference presentations and panels about DEI work. And she’s identified the topic of her dissertation thesis: what are the self-care and resilience strategies that black female higher education administrators exhibit?

This way of framing the research differs from much of the field. LaShae noticed that most DEI analysis examines challenges that black women grapple with in higher education. “A lot of the research looks at the barriers and why a person would leave—and rightfully so,” she says, “But, many black women in higher education do stay!” In light of this, LaShae wants to consider their resilience. What are they doing to care for themselves? What support are they accessing/receiving? What are the strategies they employ to remain?

These questions are not hypothetical for LaShae. Cumulatively, she’s been involved in higher education administration for almost 15 years now. Professionally, she aspires to be a dean or vice president, but in her words, “I really feel like it will have something in DEI, because that’s where my heart is.”

Do you want to follow your passion, while still pursuing your career and personal life like LaShae? Visit our website or call 855-219-7300 to learn how you can step into a diverse, innovative future at ACU Online.

 
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