UTD faculty and administrators form task forces to increase outreach and support the needs of students from diverse backgrounds.
After the murder of George Floyd in 2020, a group of students led by UTD alumnus Tamara Havis contacted University President Richard C. Benson regarding racial equity on campus. This led to the creation of the Living Our Values Task Force, an Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative. This initiative has led to broader plans to support the diversity of the student body.
“As a public institution, I feel strongly that we have a mission to serve the citizens of the state of Texas and, to the largest extent possible, represent the demographics of the state of Texas,” Rafael Martin, vice president and chief of staff, said. “I don’t know that you can truly serve if you don’t really mirror the population that you serve.”
Benson assigned executive leaders to various aspects related to the task force. Two key individuals include Martin and George Fair, former vice president for Diversity and Community Engagement. The main purpose of the LOV task force was to target relevant concerns at the time, through eight subcategories created by Benson. These subcategories include, academic programs in African and African diaspora studies, diversity training, undergraduate recruitment and more. The LOV task force was a temporary organization, planned to dissolve by early fall 2020. While working with others in the task force, Martin and other leaders realized that a standing committee was needed to hone in on issues pertaining to diversity and inclusion.
“What we learned was there were a lot of groups in a lot of communities that that felt like we could be doing better in supporting them,” Martin said, “Living up to our promise to be an inclusive and supportive community. Systemic racism was a key issue that the Living Our Values task force was dealing with. But I think it really opened the door to a broader discussion about inclusion for all groups, all different types of people or groups that didn’t feel like they were fully belonging at our institution.”
The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Vice President Yvette Pearson formed the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access, IDEA, committee in late fall 2021. Pearson’s first task as head of the committee included collaborating with campus executives to formulate a practical plan that the Committee for the Support of Diversity and Equity, CSDE, would be part of.
“Specifically, I worked with Dr. Rafael Martin, Dr. Sheryl Skaggs and Dr. Ravi Prakash with input from Staff Council, Student Government, Graduate Student Assembly and Academic Senate to create the IDEA Committee,” Pearson said. “The IDEA Committee is designed to help identify and prioritize initiatives and strategies that ensure “members of the [UTD] community from all backgrounds are welcomed, treated fairly and encouraged in their pursuit of excellence.”
Unlike the LOV task force, the IDEA committee consists of members from the student body in addition to staff and faculty.
“[The LOV] task force] catalyzed an awareness for a lot of people on campus about different issues that they may not have been fully aware for a lot of people were experiencing, that groups previously didn’t have,” Martin said. “A place to voice those concerns, and because we created an environment where we invited different groups on campus to come in and participate.”
In attempt to diversify the student body, the ODEI and the IDEA committee are implementing incentivizing programs that will attract students to pursue their higher education at UTD.
“We’re the University of Texas at Dallas, we’re not just the University of Texas of the northern suburbs of Dallas, right? We want to have more outreach,” Martin said. “Our enrollment management team has started some initiatives to create more resources that are available to those districts and those schools specifically where we know there are high quality students who would thrive at our institution, but maybe who don’t.”
Currently, the IDEA committee is focusing on recruiting minorities in the STEM field into UTD’s faculty, among other projects.
“The IDEA Committee was approved in November 2022 and has only met twice, so their agenda is not yet established,” Pearson said. “However, a couple of priorities include picking up where the LOV Task Force left off by following up on the status of the task force’s recommendations and serving as the nexus group that, along with institutional leaders and initiatives such as STEMM Equity Achievement Change and Adapting Successful Practices to foster an Inclusive, Respectful and Equitable Environment, helps prioritize institutional change initiatives and strategies.”
Despite pushback from the Texas government, since no policy has been set in stone, UTD will continue its diversity, equity and inclusion efforts while complying with federal and state laws.