University of Tennessee athletes and students rally against racial injustice on Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020.
Knoxville News Sentinel
In an effort to recruit and retain diverse faculty, staff and students, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville is taking a concerted, personalized approach for each college at the university.
The goal? Not just increasing the number of students and staff of color, but to truly transform the university so everyone is welcomed and comfortable.
“It’s really about creating environments and spaces where people can be their authentic self, whether they’re first-generation students, or students of color, or underrepresented background, a LGBTQ-plus student, whatever that might be,” said Tyvi Small, UT’s vice chancellor for diversity and engagement. “We just want to make sure that folks felt like they matter and belong and have a place here in their state’s flagship, land-grant institution.”
Each academic college has added a diversity officer and will create a diversity plan for each college, to address what students, faculty and staff need. While the UT System has started establishing goals for the entire university system, plans for each college will be designed around what those students and faculty need to thrive at UT, said Chancellor Donde Plowman.
“We’re engaging with the community in Knoxville, the community around the state and being willing and committed to setting some very specific goals about movement and progress,” Plowman said.
Reflecting the diversity of the state
Another goal is for the diversity among students, faculty and staff to reflect the diversity of Tennessee, Plowman said. She wants the number of diverse faculty members to better reflect the national averages for universities as well.
Over 77% of UT Knoxville students are white, according to fall 2020 enrollment data. Around 5.5% of students are Black, 4.8% of students are Hispanic, 3.8% are two or more races and 3.7% are Asian or Pacific Islander.
Over 78% of Tennesseans are white. Statewide, 17% of Tennesseans are Black and 5.7% are Hispanic, according to U.S. Census information. Additionally, 2% of Tennesseans are Asian and 2% are two or more races.
‘A culture of inclusivity’
But numbers don’t tell the whole story.
Colleges’ diversity officers will be tasked with creating “a culture of inclusivity” for people from all backgrounds, Small said.
“They will be making sure that everything they do in the college really falls in line with our goal to be a campus where everybody is respected, valued and included, and that they matter and belong,” Small said.
Tyvi Small, vice chancellor for diversity and engagement at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, speaks to Knox News on Monday, November 16, 2020. (Photo: Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel )
Diversity officers will work directly with the students, faculty and staff to address those individual needs.
Plans for each college will be focused academics. For example, one goal for the college of nursing is to have more gender diversity among their faculty and students, Small said. Another college may focus on creating educational events or a speaker series for students, while others may focus on bringing diversity directly into the curriculum.
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“As we think about this work, it really is critical to who we are as a land-grant (university) and as a flagship, because we have an access mission as the land-grant university to meet the needs of all the citizens of the state of Tennessee,” Small said. “We want to make sure that everybody who is affiliated or associated with the university feels like they matter and that they belong.”
Working throughout the state
UT has been making a more serious effort to reach out across the state to middle school and high school students who may attend UT in the future — and that includes underrepresented and minority students. UT has been using its extension offices, located in each county in Tennessee, as well as their 4-H partnerships to do so, Small said.
UT is working to reach out to students who come from non-traditional backgrounds, including first-generation college students, veterans and students who are parents.
By doing the work, those students will feel more welcome when they step foot on campus, Plowman said.
Plowman attended high school in rural Oklahoma before moving to Dallas for college. She experienced a culture shock adjusting to life in college, and said she wants all UT students, no matter where they come from, to feel comfortable from day one.
“We want to be a place where everyone matters and everyone belongs,” Plowman said. “I like that because it’s personal to me.”
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