University of Kentucky Hires First Diversity Officer - Higher Education

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University of Kentucky Hires First Diversity Officer

by Dana Forde

Dr. Judy ‘J.J.’ Jackson, set to become the University of Kentucky’s first vice president for institutional diversity, has big plans for developing and implementing a diversity agenda that she says is essential for learning.

Now a dean at New York’s Vassar College, Jackson says she’s “excited” to be a part of something she describes as a “groundbreaking, history-making vision” for the 143-year-old university.

Jackson, who starts this summer, will work strategically to craft UK’s diversity agenda, which she says is essential to establishing a strong foundation for learning. She notes that one of the most important goals during her first year at UK will be to conduct a university-wide “gap analysis” to devise various strategies on recruiting a diverse group of students and faculty.

“Often times, people don’t think of diversity and excellence as the same concept … the goal and the mission that the University of Kentucky has embarked upon demands that people think of diversity and excellence as conceptual cohabitants,” says Jackson, whose responsibilities will include advising the university’s president and provost on matters relating to academic, fiscal and administrative policy.

“It has to do with assessing where every unit in the institution stands and where it stands on the academic landscape. No institute of higher education is going to achieve its greatest glory without a serious diversity agenda,” says Jackson, who earned her doctoral degree in administration, planning and social policy with a concentration in higher education from Harvard University.

The announcement of Jackson’s hiring comes several months after two racially motivated incidents erupted on the UK campus. According to published reports, campus police investigated a “threatening racial epithet” that was written on the door of a Black student’s dorm room in October. That incident followed one in which the university’s independent student newspaper published a satirical cartoon, using “offensive” images of slavery in a dialogue about the recruitment of African-Americans into White sororities and fraternities, says UK’s provost, Dr. Kumble Subbaswamy.

He adds that these incidents are not related to Jackson’s hiring and that the search for a vice president for institutional diversity was launched more than a year ago.

“We deeply regret the incident obviously,” says Subbaswamy, adding that the university continues to encourage dialogue among students and faculty with regards to racial sensitivity. “Universities, colleges, all segments of society really need to step up and that’s what we’re trying to do here at the University of Kentucky.”

Jackson adds that these types of incidents are not uncommon and have affected campuses and institutions across the country. She notes that her position will not be a unilateral one, and she will take a multifaceted approach to encourage cooperation among faculty, the student body, and the community as a whole with regards to racial discourse.

“These are American societal issues that stemmed from the time of slavery forward to today. I don’t expect that my presence is going to make a big difference in stopping these things … everyone has to be part of the solution,” Jackson says.

“What is incumbent for us to do is to create or strengthen and sustain an atmosphere of decency and mutual respect and a core set of values that are clear to the entire community. And when we hold each other accountable for behavior outside of that core set of values, it has to be coupled with polices and procedures that say there are consequences.”

In a recent statement, UK’s President Lee T. Todd Jr. noted that, “in addition to her academic interest in diversity and her administrative experience, she (Jackson) has successfully developed and implemented diversity programs throughout her career — at Vassar College, New York University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cornell University, Babson College, and Bucknell University.”

Subbaswamy adds that Jackson’s scholarship interests and extensive experience will make her a valuable asset to the UK team.

“We are moving to a broad understanding of diversity as a core value … that every student needs to understand, appreciate and know people of diverse backgrounds. So that transition requires a new model and new thinking,” he says. “We were very fortunate that she (Jackson) agreed to come here … You never expect to get the ideal candidate but I feel we really do have our ideal candidate in her.”

Dana Forde

 

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