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Ensuring All Vols Matter and Belong

At Wednesday’s First-Generation Welcome Picnic, under a big tent with lines wrapped around the Humanities and Social Sciences Plaza, I met dozens of first-generation college students. They told me about their first few weeks on campus, their classes, and their hometowns.

I watched students, staff, and faculty with different backgrounds and interests find fellowship and common ground. It was a reminder of the amazing potential on our campus.

We will reach that potential and become the best version of ourselves when everyone sees this university as a place where they belong and their contributions are welcome.

My first two months as chancellor have been full of listening and learning. From my interactions, I know there are a number of incredible people here doing the hard and important work of making our campus a more diverse and inclusive place. I also know that responsibility extends beyond just a few organizations, offices, and individuals.

I am especially appreciative of the work that Tyvi Small has done in his short time as interim vice chancellor for diversity and engagement. He has helped bring focus to a number of existing diversity and inclusion efforts, while spearheading new initiatives to make our campus a place where all students can succeed

Some of our accomplishments across campus:

  • Launching new faculty and staff training and professional development programs, including UConnecT and the UT Inclusive Leadership Academy
  • Providing a framework for academic colleges to create diversity action plans that will be reviewed this fall
  • Creating new orientation and First-Year Studies curriculum for students and adjusting the general education curriculum for implementation in fall 2021
  • Forming a task force to review the Student Code of Conduct
  • Creating opportunities for university-wide dialogue with Intergroup Dialogue, Rocky Topics, Orange Table Talks, and speaker series
  • Launching new recruitment and retention programs for undergraduate and graduate students and for faculty members, including the Research Development Academy
  • Highlighting the provost office’s inclusive teaching toolbox

In order to coordinate and expand these and other efforts, Tyvi has recently hired Janelle Coleman and Lorna Hollowell to work directly with him. He has also appointed three faculty fellows—Hillary Fouts, Dorian McCoy, and Amber Roessner—to help guide this work. Together, with your support, they will help position us for success.

I am proud of the steps we have taken and I know there is more to do. As we move forward, I will keep communicating with you about these efforts and listening to your feedback. I hold weekly office hours most Tuesdays at 3 p.m. in the Student Union. If you have a concern, a question, or an idea, I want to hear it.

I also encourage you to attend the upcoming Dear World events on September 12 and 19. This is an opportunity for each of us to share our individual stories and show the collective impact of our amazing community.

These events officially kick off the “Vol Is a Verb” campaign, an initiative led by the Office of the Dean of Students encouraging Volunteers to put actions behind our words to make sure everyone feels they matter and belong on Rocky Top.

The work ahead belongs to all of us. Building an engaged community begins with the spaces we enter and the people we encounter every day. Ask yourself: What can I do to make my classroom, residence hall, department, or office a place where all people feel welcome and ideas can flourish? If you don’t have a good answer, ask for help.

If each of us makes our corner of this campus better, together we can ensure a future where every Volunteer feels they are part of the fabric of this university and every student can be successful.

To our students, I want you to know that you belong on this campus. You have earned this opportunity to learn and grow at a world-class university, and you and your success matter to all of us.