Diversity Champions exemplify an unyielding commitment to diversity and inclusion throughout their campus communities, across academic programs, and at the highest administrative levels. INSIGHT Into Diversity selected institutions that rank in the top tier of past Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award recipients.
At Texas Tech University (TTU) in Lubbock, where nearly half of the student body is from ethnically underrepresented groups, diversity and inclusion are the foundation upon which the public institution builds its future — and that of its students, faculty, and staff. Through myriad initiatives and resources, the university works to support and ensure the success of all groups before, during, and after their time on campus.
[Above: A student demonstrates his loyalty to TTU with an #IAmARedRaider sign; the Red Raider is the university’s mascot.]
Engaging in Diversity
One example of TTU’s commitment to this work is Diversity U, a program that provides information, resources, and engagement opportunities related to equity and inclusion for students, faculty, staff, and the community. Initially developed as a short series of events for the fall semester, Diversity U has grown to include nearly 40 events held throughout the fall and spring semesters.
According to Ruben Lopez, unit coordinator for the Cross-Cultural Academic Advancement Center (CCAAC), the purpose of Diversity U is to demonstrate TTU’s commitment to ensuring all cultures and identities are represented and included on campus. “We have a little bit for everyone,” Lopez says.
The initiative begins each semester with the Diversity U Kick Off. Hosted by the Division of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Community Engagement (DIDECE), the event features booths for various units and programs within the division so that attendees can find out what the university has to offer; these include the CCAAC, First-Generation Transition and Mentoring Programs, the University Interscholastic League, and others.
The Kick Off also provides information on all Diversity U programs and activities for the semester. Specific events include thought-provoking film screenings, workshops and panel discussions, and community outreach programs.
In addition, TTU connects with local high school students through the initiative’s Road to College event, part of the university’s broader statewide recruitment efforts. Road to College is a one-day on-campus event that educates high school students and their families on the higher education opportunities available to them. The program begins with a guest speaker who explains the TTU admissions process, followed by breakout sessions to discuss specific topics related to enrollment.
“Many students are first-generation, so we walk them through the process of applying and how to get financial aid,” says Associate Vice President of Institutional Diversity at TTU Paul Frazier, EdD. “We also help them figure out housing, what to do when they come to orientation, and [we] get them in contact with campus counselors.”
As a result of this focused recruitment, TTU is close to achieving Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) status, which requires that this population make up 25 percent or more of an institution’s total enrollment. With Hispanics currently comprising 24.2 percent of the student body, Juan Muñoz, PhD — senior vice president for institutional diversity, equity, and community engagement and vice provost for undergraduate education and student affairs — believes the university will achieve HSI status by fall 2017, making it eligible for a portion of the $225 million in federal funds dispersed to HSIs annually.
In addition, TTU’s recruitment efforts have led to an increase in the number of African American students enrolling, which is nearly 7 percent — a figure Muñoz says is noteworthy due to Lubbock’s geographic location.
“This is West Texas,” he says. “We are about 400 miles away from significant metropolitan population density [where there is a larger underrepresented population].”
However, despite its location in a predominantly white city, TTU is just shy of reflecting Lubbock’s African American population of 7.8 percent.
Encouraging Difficult Conversations
Another popular initiative at TTU is “Difficult Dialogues,” a series of panel discussions aimed at enhancing the intellectual atmosphere and bolstering institutional opportunities for engaging conversations, such as those regarding race, religion, gender, and the LGBTQ community. TTU hosts up to four Difficult Dialogue events per semester.
Launched in 2011 by the Ford Foundation — which also initially provided grants to participating institutions — this national initiative is designed “to promote pluralism and academic freedom on college campuses,” according to TTU’s website. The purpose is “not to change people’s beliefs,” but rather “to create and institutionalize models of dialogue based on mutual respect, tolerance, and an informed exchange of views and ideas.”
“For the first several years, we adopted a model of Difficult Dialogues with an emphasis on faculty, [including] workshops and training opportunities to guide and show them some models to take back to their classrooms to engage students in difficult discussions,” says Jobi Martinez, a TTU doctoral candidate and part-time graduate instructor who has helped plan the events. “Often, faculty didn’t know how to approach these dialogues, or when they did try to, [things] went awry. We wanted to give them the tools to have those successful conversations.”
Initial workshops trained faculty on how to be culturally sensitive; this training included encouraging them to be aware of cultural attributes without assigning them value, as well as using the knowledge and experience of diverse students to make difficult discussions more effective.
From those sessions, Martinez says faculty members have developed a better understanding of how to approach uncomfortable conversations. Since then, the program has shifted its focus to engaging students.
“Our faculty is still heavily involved,” she says, “but we moved beyond the training to more implementation [in the classroom], taking a curricular and co-curricular approach.”
Lopez says that recognizing and being able to set aside biases is essential to engaging students in conversations on difficult or sensitive topics, which he believes better prepares them for the workplace.
As a result of TTU’s ongoing efforts to engage students in fostering an inclusive campus climate, Lopez says that Diversity U and Difficult Dialogues have evolved into ongoing discussions in the classroom and across campus.
Advocating for Female Faculty
TTU also works to ensure inclusion and equity for faculty members. Recognizing that women face different challenges than men, the university launched the Women Faculty Writing Group (WFWG) last year to help them be more successful at TTU. The group brings together women from across disciplines and departments for a three-hour workshop every week. Only the second group of its kind in the nation, the program aims to cultivate their writing skills as they work toward publishing their research and, by extension, achieving tenure.
Through the WFWG, TTU women faculty remain focused on their career advancement and are able to overcome a major hurdle on the path to achieving tenure. Research, in addition to instructing, grading, and mentoring, is another critical component of a professor’s job that often gets pushed to the side when the semester gets busy; this is particularly the case for women and minorities.
Furthermore, though national data show entry-level professorships are split nearly evenly between men and women, women make up only 43 percent of tenured faculty. While the WFWG has not leveled the playing field for women when it comes to tenure, its members have expressed their appreciation for the initiative and the support it provides.
“We all have considerable demands on our time, and our work is frequently interrupted,” Elizabeth Sharp, PhD, associate chair of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, said in an article on TTU’s website. “Most of us receive emails nonstop, and we know faculty members spend considerable time answering emails, but our research demands attention, too. The writing program helps us prioritize.”
WFWG workshops include a 30-minute group discussion during which participants share motivational strategies and set writing goals. Women then engage in structured writing time working on individual projects, with colleagues nearby to answer questions and offer support. Beginning as one small group, the WFWG quickly expanded to include two additional groups to support its high attendance.
“It has morphed into something much more significant, which categorically contributes to tenure promotion,” Muñoz says.
Now, the WFWG hosts an annual retreat in a secluded location about 50 miles from Lubbock. Over the course of two days, members participate in workshops to help them finish and edit their work.
“They then submit their scholarship to their academic disciplines and conferences,” Muñoz says. “If someone’s work gets accepted for presentation, there’s a pool of money they can apply for that they would then leverage with funding from their department or college [to help pay for conference costs].”
“Scholarship is the currency of the realm,” Muñoz adds. “If they’re not publishing and presenting their work, it’s going to be very difficult to be promoted and retained. [This is] particularly true for women in many STEM fields.”
The WFWG appears to be having a positive impact. Collectively, members of the inaugural 2015-2016 cohort have since published 23 conference papers and 20 articles in peer-reviewed journals. Additionally, one woman was awarded a Harvard University-sponsored fellowship.
By focusing its efforts not just on recruiting students and faculty, but also on supporting them throughout their academic and professional lives, even beyond its campus, TTU demonstrates a true commitment to those it serves. But, according to Muñoz, this work does not come without its struggles.
“The challenge is maintaining [the current] level of service,” Muñoz says, “as well as being nimble and flexible enough to adjust those services to continue to be relevant to the evolving campus.”●
Lauren Healey is a senior staff writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity. Texas Tech University is a 2012-2016 INSIGHT Into Diversity HEED Award recipient.