BABE #182: DIANA R.A. MORRIS: Writer; Compliance Coordinator, Vanderbilt University
By day, Diana works as a compliance coordinator at Vanderbilt University, where she meets with students one-on-one to discuss violations of university policies, and keeps them responsible in completing their assigned sanctions. Outside of the academic environment, she’s a writer and editor, who recently published her first book. In today’s interview, we explore Diana's love for putting pen to paper, her experience of juggling two separate careers, and how she’s navigating the #adulting world with a little help from the greats (Jessica Pearson, Cristina Yang and Olivia Pope, of course.)
Hometown: Mount Vernon, New York
Current city: Nashville, Tennessee
Alma mater: Boston College; Vanderbilt University
Degree: B.A., Communication; M.Ed., Higher Education Administration
Very first job: Ice Cream Scooper at Friendly’s Restaurant
Huslte(s): Compliance Coordinator, Vanderbilt University; Writer and Freelance Editor, dianaramorris.com
Babe you admire and why?
I really admire my mother, both for the parent she is to my siblings and me and the woman she is outside of that role. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to see the work and sacrifices she made for our family in a new light. For example, she managed a household while working full-time and earning her Associate’s, Bachelor’s, and Master’s degrees in education—that’s the ultimate example of hustling. Today, she’s a teacher who has transformed the lives of elementary school students for decades. I appreciate her so much and I treasure the friendship we’re developing.
How do you spend your free time?
My free time is spent trying out new restaurants and recreating Food Network specials in my kitchen, hiking and running, experiencing all types of art (whether it be a new movie, catching up on my shows, going to art exhibits or attending concerts) and working towards my goal of visiting all 50 states.
Favorite fictional female character?
A mix of Jessica Pearson from “Suits,” Cristina Yang from “Grey’s Anatomy,” and Olivia Pope from “Scandal.” All three women embody a no-nonsense approach to their professional lives that put them at the top of their game, but also the vulnerability, confidence and grace to actively choose to put themselves first and (re)define success in ways that work best for them.
Go-to adult beverage?
Go-to power anthem?
“Electric Lady,” by Janelle Monaé.
What is something you want to learn or master?
I want to learn how to code apps and/or speak multiple languages fluently.
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
Michelle Obama and Serena Williams. Michelle because, duh, and Serena because I just finished watching her HBO docuseries and I was amazed at (1) how open she was throughout the process, and (2) how dope she is across the board. I think coffee with the two of them would be a masterclass in how to be a boss.
Tell us about your hustle.
During the day, I work in university administration, specifically in student accountability. Part of my role is meeting one-on-one with students to discuss potential violations of university policies and the short- and long-term impact of their decisions on themselves and other members of the community. The other part of the role centers on ensuring students found responsible for violations complete their assigned sanctions, and that students across campus complete online trainings that introduce them to university policies and resources. Outside of my work in education, I published my first book, “Lachesis’ Allotment,” in March and help people translate their thoughts to paper (or computer screen) as a freelance editor. Long story short, my jobs allow me to help people identify their “aha” moment and the steps they want to take towards shaping the rest of their story. Each day is different, but each one is a privilege.
What does your typical workday look like?
Throughout the day I’m a listener, learner, problem-solver, project manager and wordsmith. My typical day starts early—I’m up at 5:00 a.m. for a quick workout and then I do some work for my editing business. I work my day job from 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m., where I meet with students and colleagues and work on whatever administrative projects come up, whether that be researching best practices, hosting or attending trainings or managing our online module systems. After 5:00 p.m., I spend some more time working on projects for clients before heading to bed by 9:00 p.m. The weekend is where I throw this schedule to the side a bit and add in time to hang out with friends, travel and relax in preparation for the next week.
Have you always had a passion for storytelling?
Absolutely—some of my favorite memories from growing up are of visiting my local library. Over the summer, they hosted reading contests, and I would always get to pick out a prize for the number of books I completed. Not surprisingly, I would choose another book. I’ve always been fascinated by the way the 26 letters in the (English) alphabet can be twisted and rearranged to create new worlds and bring people closer together. For me, reading and writing are some of the purest forms of magic there is.
What inspired “Lachesis’ Allotment”?
The idea for “Lachesis’ Allotment” came from wanting to get onto paper the thoughts and reflections I’ve had for years about why people act the way they do. When writing the book, I had to sit down and put together the random scribbles I had scattered through journal entries, essays, tweets, texts and the Notes feature on my iPhone in a cohesive package. When it came time to publish, I explored the “traditional” route (i.e. agent and publishing company), but realized the book was not something that would typically picked up by a traditional outlet given its blended screenplay/short-essay style and novella length, so I decided to manage the publishing process myself. I researched printing companies, editors, cover and interior designers and publicists, and created a team of people to help me bring the book to life.
How have your past educational and professional experiences prepared you for the work you do today?
The biggest takeaway from past internships, education and work experiences has been how to think outside of the box, in a lot of ways. My undergraduate program taught me about the mechanics of writing and speaking, and my graduate work taught me about the history and function of higher education and student development theory. But given the personal nature of my work, it really is something you learn as you go. What works with one student or client won’t necessarily work with another—you really have to take an individualized approach within the structures that exist. One thing they did not prepare me for—and I think this is true for a lot of programs and jobs—is what it means to truly find a balance (or “blend” as I like to refer to it) between your work and your life. I’ve had so many conversations with people about how being an “adult” is so much harder than we could have ever imagined! There are so many decisions to make, so many responsibilities to manage, so many considerations to have, and while it’s all thrilling and exciting, identifying what matters and dedicating the time to those things was definitely not on any of my syllabi or in any orientation packets—but it definitely impacts my work, in terms of how I engage with others and what I put my energy behind.
How has your gender and/or ethnicity affected your professional experience?
As a black woman, there is constantly a balancing act between being invisible and hypervisible due to the compounding of stereotypes and biases for both gender and race. The self-policing of tone, body language and word choice gets exhausting, so I just try to operate under the belief that everyone is doing the best they can at any given moment and hope they believe the same for me.
Who are some women in your field you look to for inspiration?
Cara Tuttle Bell, as someone working to change the landscape for students, especially around the issues of consent and power-based violence, and Shonda Rhimes, for building a dynasty with her imagination.
What advice would you give to a babe trying to break into your industry?
For higher education, I suggest meeting with people who work in the functional area you’re interested in and speaking with them about their path into the field—there are so many different stories! Some people build on student leadership experiences they had as an undergraduate, some come from completely different industries. Hearing from people doing exactly what you want to do, especially at the college/university level, is important because there’s no one-size-fits-all model and there are jobs that exist outside of the professor or faculty arena that don’t immediately come to mind when people think about working at a college.
What helps you wind down and manage stress?
Music, books and art are always my go-to. When completing my last two moves, the first things I set up in my apartments were my bookshelf, gallery wall and stereo system. I have a running list of concerts to attend, art museums or events to enjoy and books to read or listen to.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Invest in yourself as much as—if not more than—you invest in other people. There’s a reason the adage of not being able to pour from an empty cup is a cliché—it’s because it’s true! If you don’t identify your wants and needs and take active steps towards meeting them, how can you possibly help other people do the same? I think Lauryn Hill said it best when she mused, “How you gon’ win if you ain’t right within?” Often, especially as women, we tend to put other people before ourselves. But at the end of the day, you’re all you have—and you have to be your own biggest advocate and cheerleader. It’s hard, but I truly believe all of your relationships will be better for it.
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