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Equity and Inclusion: What We’re Doing

Dear Volunteer community,

Over the past several weeks following the murder of George Floyd, I have listened to people on our campus express a range of emotions, from anger to exhaustion to sadness, and express their hope for a better future.

I appreciate the members of our community—the Commission for Blacks, the co-directors of the Critical Race Collective, coaches, current and former faculty members, staff members, and others—who have bravely offered their personal stories and shared their professional expertise to help us better understand the insidious nature of systems that perpetuate racism and inequity. Now is the time for real and sustained action. I want to update you on some of the things we are working on.

Faculty and staff recruitment and retention

  • I am charging campus leadership to intensify our efforts to recruit, support, and retain faculty of color. The Office of the Provost led an initiative that resulted in the hiring of four faculty members of color in 2019, and we will continue to build on that progress. Campus units are currently completing their diversity action plans, which are due to my office in September and should include plans related to this charge.
  • We will invest funding in two faculty lines in Africana studies beginning immediately to facilitate transitioning it from a program of study to a department.
  • We will work with the co-directors of the Critical Race Collective (CRC) with the goal of developing it into a center to further enhance research and scholarship capacity. My office will provide support to the CRC scholars currently focused on the status of Black faculty at UT. A report from that work can inform our decisions for unwinding inequitable policies and practices on campus.
  • Provost John Zomchick will partner with the Faculty Senate to review the promotion and tenure process to revalue service done in the interest of advancing racial equity.

Culture of inclusion

  • I have charged Provost Zomchick with strengthening efforts to recruit and retain students of color, aiming to reflect Tennessee’s population in our student body. This requires that our campus be recognized as a place where everyone feels included and supported. The Divisions of Enrollment Management, Student Life, and Student Success will work together to build on the ideal that “Vol is a Verb” and engage students in taking action to help build this culture.
  • The Division of Student Life is working with student representatives to plan a meaningful set of student-focused educational programs and activities for the coming year that bring the campus community together. Student Success will include educational modules for first-year students covering inclusion and our Volunteer values beginning in fall 2020.
  • We are updating our bias protocols for current and incoming students and reviewing our Student Code of Conduct.
  • We will hire a CRC Fellow to work with the Division of Diversity and Engagement to coordinate antiracist teach-ins, conferences, and other programming.
  • We are creating a working group to review building names and identify naming opportunities to recognize the important work that has been done on campus to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Community engagement

  • The Division of Diversity and Engagement, along with units from across campus, will create a series of educational programs co-sponsored with community organizations aimed at strengthening our community partnerships in the Knoxville area.
  • Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon and I have formed a joint working group that includes Knoxville Police Department Chief Eve Thomas and UT Police Department Chief Troy Lane to evaluate current policing practices and culture. This is an opportunity to improve policing and departmental collaboration.

Going forward

These commitments build on important work already being done on campus and represent the beginning of a sustained push to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion. I appreciate the exceptional work of the Division of Diversity and Engagement, led by Vice Chancellor Tyvi Small, to engage the campus and community. I also understand that this work is for all of us to do.

Later this month the University Leadership Council will meet over a two-day period to reflect on our reading of the book How to Become an Anti-Racist, and we will develop a detailed plan for building a campus community where everyone truly matters and belongs.

We invite everyone within the Volunteer community to help us make meaningful change.

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Donde Plowman