Dr. Ford Day: Remembering an Irreplaceable Part of the UIS Community

Dr. Clarice Ford, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs | Photo Credit: University of Illinois at Springfield

Head into campus and you will notice salmon pink, apple green, blue and gold ribbons tied onto the trees lining 11th Street, student housing, the recreational park and University Drive. Staff from the Diversity Center placed the ribbons on Wednesday afternoon to honor Dr. Clarice Ford, long-time Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, who would have celebrated her 64th birthday.

She died from a sudden illness on April 19, 2020.

The colors refer to Ford’s proud membership to Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA), a historically Black sorority and her contributions to UIS.

Jocelyn Nelson, a graduate Assistant at the Diversity Center and a member of AKA, said Dr. Ford’s mentorship and encouragement helped her to finish her undergraduate degree in three years when she felt the odds were against her. Motivated by Ford to continue her education, she expects to graduate in May with a Masters in Human Services with a focus on Child and Family Studies.

“She was like the rock that kept us together,” Nelson said when describing the level of support Ford provided for her sorority sisters.

Ford first came to UIS in 2008 to serve as Executive Director of the Diversity Center and Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Services and in 2014 became Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs. A university statement announcing her death stated: “Dr. Ford has been a leader who was dedicated to cultivating inclusive communities and ensuring that every student, regardless of background, has an opportunity to succeed. She has been the embodiment of “Leadership lived.” Her impact on the University of Illinois Springfield will live on in the many students, faculty and staff she has guided and influenced.”

In the evening, students, faculty and staff took their seats in the front lawn of the Student Union in anticipation of a candlelight vigil to commemorate Ford.

“She was a hugger,” said Fatima Velasco, a junior majoring in accounting, who said students could expect an embrace when finding her in the Student Union.

When recalling hearing the announcement of her death, Sheryl Murray, an MBA student and former office manager for the Dean of Public Affairs and Administration said, “I was so terribly shocked by her passing and at such a young age.”

Murray met Ford during a study abroad trip to Gambia in 2010. “She brought a positive presence to any room.” Prior to the trip, Murray knew of Ford and noticed her on campus to be friendly and warm towards those around her. During the trip they became friends and after that they would get together for lunch when their schedules permitted it. “We just had the best time together,” she said.

Murray said that Ford’s mission is what drove her. “She really wanted to make sure students were successful and helped them remove any barriers.”

A press release from UIS in September focused on the decrease in student enrollment but the school’s ability to keep students who have enrolled is also very low. Since 2016, student enrollment has dropped 27% according to UIS’ Department of Institutional Research data.
In the organization’s latest findings, the 2019 freshman retention rate was 73.5 %, a five percent decrease from 2018. In other words, over 25% of students did not return to UIS after their first year.
During a class visit in the Public Affairs Center in September, Interim Chancellor Karen Whitney said the university provost was launching a working group to “understand who is leaving and why” and consider what solutions the university can implement to improve retention.

“She really advocated for all students,” Nelson said.

When people see the ribbon, she hopes that people remember Ford’s message of perseverance – “Whatever it takes” – and do what’s necessary to graduate from UIS.

You can donate to the Dr. Clarice Ford “Whatever It Takes” Fund  here.