Hawthorne Translates Leadership Lessons to Impact in Career

Charles Hawthorne has translated leadership and work experiences from his time with University Residences' Alumni and Guest Center into his work with the National Harm Reduction Coalition.

Charles Hawthorne has translated leadership and work experiences from his time with University Residences' Alumni and Guest Center into his work with the National Harm Reduction Coalition.

Charles Hawthorne knows his voice matters in leadership positions.

As a student, Hawthorne served as a tour ambassador and tour coordinator for University Residences’ Alumni and Guest Center. He currently serves as a capacity building manager for the National Harm Reduction Coalition, a nationwide advocate and ally for people who use drugs. In his current role, he manages all training work in the state of California for the organization.

“I think there was a really big need for me to show up in both of those roles as my full self,” says Hawthorne. “I think, being a Black queer person, it’s important that I am in those spaces because, oftentimes, those are not the people who are leading trainings or making decisions. It’s important to me to bring that lens to these decisions and trainings.”

Hawthorne began to gain experience developing and executing training programs while on the Alumni and Guest Center staff. As part of the first cohort of students hired, he and his colleagues led the development of processes used to hire and train students. Hawthorne and his peers developed the training program, methodologies for performance review and scheduling systems still in use today.

“This was my first time supervising people and being responsible for putting programs together,” says Hawthorne. “That was my first time putting together a training manual and running a training program – which is what my job is now. It was my first time recruiting and going through the whole hiring process with people. There were a lot of firsts for me in terms of management and being in a leadership role in that way.”

Being part of the first cohort of students on the Alumni and Guest Center staff allowed Hawthorne and his colleagues the freedom to propose and develop these processes. This served in contrast to some of the other organizations he was involved with on campus, which had more established events and procedures. Hawthorne was also a founding member of the Purdue Queer Students of Color student organization, which provides support to empower and unite LGBTQ+ people of color, was a member of the Purdue chapter of Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) and served on several advisory councils.

“In my job now, I’ve walked into a structure that’s in place,” says Hawthorne. “But, I think having that opportunity and that space in UR where I was able to dream, have an idea and bring it to fruition has given me so much faith and energy to do that in the work that I am doing now.”

As a tour coordinator, Hawthorne served in a student supervisory role. Tour coordinators receive feedback from professional staff in addition to supervising and evaluating fellow students. In this capacity, he says he learned how to have difficult conversations with people – which he continues to do today, often in capacities that impact people who may be in vulnerable situations.

For the past three years, Hawthorne managed the training institute of the National Harm Reduction Coalition’s San Francisco office. In that role, he often worked with drug treatment organizations, housing providers, youth organizations and substance use treatment programs, among other entities. Hawthorne was recently promoted to his current role, in which he manages all of the organization’s training work in California. A large part of his efforts involve educating and empowering substance use treatment navigators, who work within the medical system as advocates on behalf of patients and help connect people with resources they need.

Harm reduction was created as a concept around substance abuse and focuses on giving people who use drugs the resources they need to do so safely. This manifests through programs such as drug overdose prevention education, patient advocacy and syringe exchanges, and helping coordinate medical care and housing.

“Everybody has their own relationship with drugs, whether that’s because of their family or their family’s history with substance abuse, what they learned growing up or maybe even their own use,” says Hawthorne. “It’s a delicate topic for people and it requires a good amount of finesse to talk to people about.”

Hawthorne relates that parallels exist between the interactions he had as a staff member of the Alumni and Guest Center and those he has now in his career. On occasion, visitors would come to campus with a negative concept of campus housing – just as one could view people who use drugs in a negative light – and be predisposed towards seeing those negative perceptions validated during their tour. Hawthorne says he has found that acknowledging reality and being honest has served well in each environment.

“It’s about creating a space and answering questions so someone can feel safe and comfortable coming into a residence hall or a parent can feel safe and comfortable sending their kid to a residence hall,” says Hawthorne. “There’s benefits and there’s drawbacks. Yes, you’re going to have a roommate. That’s reality. The rooms are not huge. But, you don’t have to worry about food, you don’t have to worry about going different places and you’re going to meet people. I can answer those questions truthfully.

“When I’m having conversations with people about drug use, it’s a lot of the same stuff,” continues Hawthorne. “Some people just want me to say drugs are bad – and that’s not what we’re having a conversation about. What we can talk about are the challenges people have managing their substance use and people who have been harmed by substance use, but also acknowledge that drugs serve a purpose in people’s lives and make people happy. We can hold all of that as truth and not have to decide whether it’s one or the other. I think people come to you and they just want support.”

In addition to these parallels, Hawthorne says that he sees his identity as a strength in his previous position as a student and now in his career.

“I think about when I was being a tour guide and there would be young, Black kids coming to Purdue for the first time,” says Hawthorne. “Purdue is a very white environment. I could talk to those kids about the ways it was going to be hard, but I could also talk to them about the ways it was going to be great. Ultimately, they could decide whether this is the place for them.

“It’s the same way in trainings,” continues Hawthorne. “When I’m talking to other Black people about substance abuse, I can acknowledge the crack epidemic, how the parallels between that and the opioid crisis are real, and how we should be giving our support. If people can’t get behind something after we talk about it, that’s ok and that’s real. It’s not about convincing people of anything, it’s just about supporting people through their own thought processes so they know they’re not going through it alone.”

In addition to the all valuable lessons he’s carried forward, Hawthorne says he treasures the time he spent with his peers – a group he refers to as a “dream team” – in the Alumni and Guest Center.

“It’s so rare when you get to be on a team of such incredibly competent and dedicated people who are trying to accomplish the same things as you, really take it seriously and are trying to create something,” says Hawthorne. “It is definitely a memory I look back on and I am really proud of what we were able to do together.”

Hawthorne spent two and a half years living in University Residences, living in Harrison, Hillenbrand and Hawkins halls prior to completing a study abroad experience in Singapore. He graduated from Purdue in 2017 with a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry from the College of Agriculture. He is pursuing a Master of Public Health from Johns Hopkins University.

Writer: Matt Vader | Editors: Elizabeth Hartley, Tammy Loew, Danielle Fawbush

Editorial Board: Barb Frazee, Tammy Loew, Elizabeth Hartley | Inquiries Contact: studentlifemarketing@purdue.edu