Why Worry About Diversity?

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Marva RudolphWe often hear the words diversity, interculturalism, multiculturalism and tolerance. As the state’s flagship campus, we can do much to promote these progressive, democratic values. We can learn not only to "tolerate" but also to fully accept and promote people of different races, ethnicities, religions, creeds, national origins, genders, sexual orientations, physical abilities, ages, veteran status, as well as social, economic or educational backgrounds.

The Council on Interculturalism and Diversity has six goals for the university.

  • Create and sustain a welcoming, supportive and inclusive campus climate.
  • Attract and retain greater numbers of individuals from under-represented populations into faculty, staff and administrative positions.
  • Attract, retain and graduate increasing numbers of students from historically under-represented populations as well as international students.
  • Develop and strengthen partnerships with diverse communities in Tennessee as well as globally.
  • Ensure that undergraduate curricular requirements include significant intercultural perspectives.
  • Prepare graduate students to become teachers, researchers and professionals in a diverse world.

Progress toward these goals helps our students, workforce and university become more knowledgeable about and competitive within a quickly changing world.

I find it encouraging that to date, more than 80 academic and non-academic departments on campus have developed plans aimed at achieving these six diversity goals.

Gradually, diversity is becoming a routine consideration in how we do business at UT. For instance, the Provost has made planning for diversity and inclusion part of the Strategic Planning Process. Also over the past year sexual orientation and gender identity were added as areas of attention in the UT Non–Discrimination Statement.

During recent campus budget hearings, all departments discussed diversity and inclusion. Last week’s Chancellor’s Honors Banquet recognized several employees and students who contributed to diversity, interculturalism, and multiculturalism.

Have we achieved all of our goals? Certainly not. The truth is, this is a process with no real end point. We can always do better. But we are making progress — and this is important to the university’s future as the diversity of our student body and workforce increases. A major mission of higher education is to create an environment that encourages dialogue and debate. We are doing that now.

The Commission for Women, Commission for Blacks, LGBT Commission, Exempt Staff Council, Employee Relations Board, Faculty Senate and SGA — all of which are on the Council on Interculturalism and Diversity — are making a difference.

We still have a long way to go. But I believe that we are creating a framework on the Knoxville campus for accepting and, someday, embracing the diversity of the human experience. My hope is that this will help us confront the fears and prejudices we each carry deep inside.

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