COOKEVILLE — Tennessee Tech University has accelerated efforts to increase diversity and improve the campus culture of inclusion with President Phil Oldham’s call for a special ad hoc task force for racial equity.
“This is the most intentionality that I’ve seen toward racial equity, a president-sanctioned team of individuals to work toward bridging racial gaps,” Robert Owens, interim vice president for Student Affairs, said.
“President Oldham asked me to take the lead and form a Racial Equity Task Force this summer. The primary charge for this group was to be a high-level think tank for racial equity issues and develop immediate actions to address those issues,” Owens said.
This group met several times over about an eight-week period. The major recommendation was to assign diversity duties to current employees in each college and academic units who would then work with the chief diversity officer.
The framework for actionable items created by the task force will be given to a future group charged with implementation. Owens says this promises to take the university forward as it relates to racial equity from faculty, staff and student perspectives.
“Because of the intentionality of our president and the passionate, diligent and highly astute group of individuals who comprise the Racial Equity Task Force, I believe Tech will make noticeable strides toward racial equity in the near future,” Owens said.
The task force members serving are Margo Dirkson, 2020-21 chairperson of the Commission on the Status of Blacks; Charria Campbell, Multicultural Affairs and Leona Lusk Officer, Black Cultural Center director; Harry Ingle, director of Diversity, Recruitment and Student Success in the College of Engineering; Krystal Akehinmi, assistant professor of history and member of the Commission on the Status of Blacks; Marcus King, assistant men’s basketball coach; and Stephen Keller, director of Admissions; and George Chitiyo, professor of educational research and evaluation.
The university identified the need to increase diversity in both its employees and students as part of the development of its Tech Tomorrow strategic plan. Last year, Tech announced its goal to increase minority enrollment to 22% by 2025, a 6% increase over the 2018-2019 level of 16%. This fall’s minority enrollment stands at 17%.