Division of Diversity and Community Engagement

Photo Credit: Carlos Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

A contentious debate on the difference between protected and unprotected speech brought over 100 students and faculty to discuss and hear arguments from all sides of an ongoing national conversation.

The Division of Diversity and Community Engagement and the Opportunity Forum hosted a panel on Wednesday evening featuring UT alumni, professors and Ross Ramsey, executive editor of the Texas Tribune. Moderated by Leonard Moore, interim vice president for Diversity and Community and Engagement, the panel was the second event in the “Free Speech on College Campuses: Where to Draw the Line?” series.

“Universities are still a place where people go for ideas to fight,” Ramsey said. “It’s where people go to talk about uncomfortable things and hear points of view they don’t otherwise hear. When institutions get into the business of saying ‘We’re going to allow these kinds of speech or this kind of conversation,’ there’s a fine line between stopping ideas they don’t like and stopping behaviors they don’t like.”

College campuses are too concerned with creating safe spaces rather than brave spaces, social work professor Lori Holleran Steiker said.

“A lot of the masking tape that we put across our own mouths and across student’s mouths are because they’re afraid of offending, and I think we need a space to have difficult dialogues,” Steiker said. “The goal is to be strong in your conviction and still keep open ears and honest dialogue, because I think that’s the challenge.”

Moore posed the question of whether controversial speakers, such as Richard Spencer, should be allowed to speak at the University and whether the University should have jurisdiction regarding the decision.

“I don’t want to give that power to the president of the United States, or the governor of Texas or the president of the University of Texas,” law professor David Rabban said. “There ought to be equal rights of student groups to hear the speakers they want. That doesn’t equate the value or the humanity of the speakers, but it has to do with the right of freedom of speech.”

Marie Girishejah, health and society freshman, said she found the discussion eye-opening to the issue of harmful versus harmless speech.

“Just because someone says something doesn’t mean that I have to feel bad about it, but I also don’t have to be quiet about it,” Girishejah said. “If it doesn’t affect me, it can affect someone else.”

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

President William Powers Jr., during his first State of the University Address in 2006, pledged to make diversity his highest priority as president — a commitment that led to the establishment of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, also known as the DDCE.

Powers, who will step down from his post as University president in June 2015, said he pushed to launch the DDCE in 2006 to improve the learning experiences of UT students and prepare them to work cross-culturally and in diverse environments once they graduate. 

“We’re a diverse state,” Powers said in an interview Tuesday. “We need diverse leadership.” 

The Division, which now includes former Longhorn quarterback Vince Young as a member of its staff, aims to ensure a diverse and welcoming learning community for University faculty, staff and students, said Gregory Vincent, vice president for diversity and community engagement. 

“When we talk about community engagement, it is really about connecting the resources of the University to the needs of the community, and whether that’s our local community here in Austin, or even at the regional, national and even, in some instances, international level,” Vincent said.  

DDCE currently supports several programs on campus aimed at promoting diversity such as the Gender and Sexuality Center, Services for Students with Disabilities and the Office of Institutional Equity. The DDCE has also partnered with outreach centers in Austin, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley to help prepare underserved high school students for college. 

Young, who graduated from UT in 2013 with a degree in education, joined the DDCE in August. He said he is responsible for leading fundraising efforts for the DDCE and speaking to children at different schools throughout Central Texas. 

“One of my goals was to be a middle school teacher, but the opportunity came here at UT to come be a part of DDCE and to go out and help promote what we’re doing,” Young said. “And basically what it’s doing is helping a lot of diverse kids understand the plans and programs about how to get to college.” 

Since Powers created DDCE eight years ago, Vincent said the Division has gone from serving about 300 students in its pre-college programs to about 1,000 students currently. He also said the initiative helped to improve the University’s relationship with East Austin, an area known for its high level of low-income households, through after-school programs and the UT Elementary charter school. 

Vincent also said thousands of students are engaged in DDCE’s volunteer activities each year, including “The Project,” one of the largest community-University days of service nationwide. 

“We have really expanded the student engagement work, and we’re giving students opportunities to have leadership roles both on campus and volunteer opportunities within the community,” Vincent said.

Powers said he anticipates the next president will continue to support the DDCE, especially in light of federal district and appeals courts ruling in favor of the University during the Fisher v. UT case.

Abigail Fisher sued the University in 2008 when she was denied acceptance to the University because her grades were not high enough to guarantee her admission under the top-10 percent rule. Her defense argued UT’s race-conscious admissions policy violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment since minority students were accepted with lower grades than hers.  

“What we know — and this is one of the central arguments in the Fisher case — is that diversity in our student body enriches the learning environment for all students, and having a diverse faculty and a diverse staff helps learning and also helps reflect our mission, because we’re supposed to serve the people of Texas, and, of course, our state is one of the most diverse in the nation,” Vincent said.

Former Texas quarterback Vince Young watches his old team take on West Virginia in 2012.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Former Longhorns quarterback Vince Young has accepted a position with the University’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement beginning on Sept. 1.

Young, who led the football program to the 2005 national championship, graduated from the University in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in applied learning and development.

“After Vince finished his degree, he was looking for some opportunities to serve his alma mater,” Gregory Vincent, vice president for diversity and community engagement, said. “It was just a really good meeting of the minds.”

Young will be working with alumni of division programs to help raise money for initiatives that promote educational success for first-generation college students and students from low-income backgrounds, such as the University Interscholastic League, UT Elementary and charter schools. His starting salary is $100,000 per year.

“The position with DDCE is a great way to stay connected to the University and help make a difference in the lives of underserved kids across the state,” Young said in a statement.

The Division of Diversity and Community Engagement works to create an inclusive environment for people of all backgrounds on the University campus and builds partnerships within the community to achieve this goal.

Vincent said Young is particularly passionate about the opportunity because he will be representing students from a background similar to his own — Young was the first person in his family to go to college.

In February, Young participated in "The Project," a community service event organized by the division.

“He’s been a wonderful partner and ambassador,” Vincent said.

Dr. Gregory Vincent, Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement. 

Every week, the Daily Texan editorial board will sit down with a campus or community figure to ask them about issues related to students. These conversations, edited and condensed for clarity, will run in the paper every Monday. This Monday, our Q-and-A is with Dr. Gregory J. Vincent, the vice president for diversity and community engagement at UT-Austin. Dr. Vincent holds professorships in both the College of Education and the School of Law and has formerly served as the assistant attorney general of Ohio. The DDCE, which he has led since 2006, promotes diversity on campus. 

Daily Texan: Can you tell us a little bit about the history of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement? 

Dr. Gregory J Vincent: I was hired during the Faulkner administration, and President Faulkner, along with Provost Ekland-Olson, made the decision to bring on a chief diversity officer. And so I was hired in 2005 to serve as the chief diversity officer. When President Powers was named president in 2006, he cited diversity as one of his four systemic priorities. And in order to operationalize that priority, he created the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement. He named me vice president in 2006 and the division really came together in 2007. 

DT: One of the goals of the DDCE is to create a diverse learning environment. But how do you create a diverse learning environment on campus when you can’t control the conditions immediately adjacent to campus? 

GV: Well, I think you can control some of the conditions. You can create a climate of mutual respect, a climate of civility. I think you can have expectations and norms. I think you can say, “This is what we’re about,” and you can set the tone both at the presidential level and at the local level. So I think you have the ability to create a campus culture that’s geared to diversity and respect, excellence, all of those values that we hold dear. There are going to be people who fall outside of that, and there have to be consequences for those actions that fall outside of those norms that we have set. I firmly believe that the vast majority of people want to do the right thing. They want to do it the right way. And so, when you set those norms and expectations, most people will fall in line with that. 

DT: What was your first reaction when you heard the accusations that were leveled by student Bryan Davis during the recent bleach balloon controversy? 

GV: Well, I take those [incidents] very seriously. Before I went into higher education, I was a civil rights attorney. I’ve devoted my life and my career to eradicating those kinds of actions and making sure that everyone feels protected and safe. And so I take [those incidents] very seriously. Because there was that potential [that this was a targeted attack], we felt it was absolutely critical to do our due diligence. We wanted to make sure we had any evidence that might be there. And, you know, we were committed to doing a full, comprehensive investigation to find out if there were contaminants, if there was something like bleach, and whether students from underrepresented backgrounds were being targeted. Even if it was a harmless prank, we take that seriously, because it causes some students to feel unsafe. And if you have students of color being potentially targeted by bleach balloons, that is a different level of incident. That could potentially be seen even as a hate crime. And so we had to investigate that in that vein. That’s the reason we collected physical evidence, that’s the reason we did the things that we did. My hope was that it was a prank and not targeting. 

DT: And how did you go about [ruling out that the attack was racially motivated]? 

GV: Well, one way was direct evidence. Obviously, any incident, whether it’s the same race or not, when you’re using a contaminant, that’s a very different situation. If you throw bleach on someone, you have to know that that’s a potential to cause harm. The other thing we looked at is, are there other students who are not members of protected groups who are being targeted? We know there has been a tradition of throwing water balloons at new fraternity initiates or women who are rushing sororities. That being said, that practice, even though it may have stemmed from a harmless prank situation, has caused a problem that needs to be addressed and solved, and that practice of throwing water balloons out of windows is not an acceptable practice. 

DT: How did you react when Davis accused the University in an op-ed in the Burnt Orange Report of “scooting the issue under the rug”? 

GV: I would just say to that, the evidence speaks for itself. If you read our statement in full and you look at our actions, we stand by those actions .  And that’s all I really have to say. I would just say, our actions are consistent with what we said we were going to do. We said we were going to have an investigation; we did that. We said we were going to take this seriously; we did that. We stand by our work and our investigation and our outreach to the student. 

DT: Moving forward, even if UT were to succeed in getting a more diverse campus, how do you confront questions of traditions — how do you confront the fact that we have a multicultural Greek system and a non-multicultural Greek system? 

GV: You’ve got to remember, these fraternities and sororities have been there for 100, over 100 years. I’m a member of a predominantly African-American fraternity and we’re over 100 years old. And so breaking down those traditions becomes very important. What we know, and just to use the University of Alabama as an example, one thing we have to do is cut out the negative pressure from alums and external forces. That’s a huge part of that and really making sure that the fraternities and sororities have the freedom to pick. I think the big issue, from what we’ve seen from the University of Alabama, is that alumni pressure. I think we have to begin to address that. 

DT: Do you have any plans to address that? 

GV: Well, again, I think it will be interesting to see what the University of Alabama’s done. I think the president has really weighed in down there to really say, you know, this is our expectations and norms. I think that also changing the pledge/rush process to be able to do it throughout the year, you know, one of the interesting things, having not been in that process, I find it very interesting that [the rush process] is very immediate. Almost as soon as you get on campus, you haven’t even taken a class yet. That’s interesting to me. And in the multicultural fraternities and sororities you’re talking about, we have our students wait until their second semester freshman year. And so I think it’s important to know the campus. I’m talking as somewhat of an outsider about this experience, but I do think opening up access is really critical. And I do think, given where students are, and their exposure to a more diverse learning environment, I do think that those things will change organically.

UT is being recognized for its diversity efforts in INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine’s December issue, along with 47 other schools that qualified for the magazine’s Higher Education Excellency in Diversity award. 

INSIGHT awarded colleges and universities with outstanding commitments to diversity and inclusion efforts toward their students, faculty, administrative staff and suppliers. The magazine used race and ethnicity, age, gender, veteran status and LGBTQ communities’ information, as well as diversity and inclusion programs as metrics for the award. This is the first year for the magazine to give the diversity award.

INSIGHT publisher Holly Mendelson said the award is meant to honor schools that are making an effort through inclusionary practices rather than having the highest number of minority students.

“It’s not like other awards where if you have a certain student population you automatically get the award,” Mendelson said. “Schools had to go above and beyond to provide us information. We really looked at the individual school. What works for one school doesn’t necessarily work for others.”

Erica Saenz, a spokesperson for UT’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, who applied for the award on behalf of the University, said INSIGHT took an in-depth look at how UT is working to create an inclusive community.

UT’s application included diversity training opportunities, recruitment efforts, multicultural or diversity events, recognition programs for diversity and inclusion, efforts that maintain an inclusive and accessible campus community and address how UT manages discrimination complaints from students.

“Serving the people of Texas means serving a diverse population, and UT-Austin embraces diversity as a strategic priority,” Saenz said. “The inaugural and national award is a great reflection of UT-Austin and the efforts our students, staff and faculty are engaged in with the goal of creating an inclusive campus community.”

Gregory Vincent, vice president for diversity and community engagement, said the division was created in 2006 through University efforts to make diversity a priority. He said having a division dedicated to making the campus an accepting place also helped prove UT’s commitment to its diversity efforts to INSIGHT.

“Certainly excellent diversity efforts are happening all across the campus,” Vincent said. “One of the main reasons we received the award is because [UT President William Powers Jr.] created this division, which gave some focus and leadership to this important effort.”

Vincent said the award reflects the multiple dimensions of diversity that the division and University encourage.

“It is validation of the hard work the entire campus has put in to promote diversity,” Vincent said. “UT is rapidly becoming one of the most diverse campuses in the country and we have to make sure that our efforts are focused on celebrating that diversity and creating an inclusive work environment.”

Printed on Tuesday, November 27, 2012 as: Magazine rewards UT's diversity efforts

Commissioned to investigate racial and discriminatory incidents on campus, the Campus Climate and Response Team is the new liaison between the University community and the administration.

The CCRT was publicly launched last week as the latest unit of the Campus Diversity and Strategic Initiatives as a University-wide resource team that will develop and facilitate appropriate responses to address “biased incidents” that may impact the stability of the community, said Ryan Miller, CCRT associate director for CDSI.

The team was created at the request of President William Powers Jr. after a report was issued by the Campus Climate Response Work Group. The work group worked with the Diversity and Equity Student Advisory Council and other student leaders to develop the team.

Council member Shannon Allport, biology senior and senior student associate for the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, said the CCRT is answering the call from students who asked for more direct attention of discriminatory offenses.

“Quite frankly, there has historically been a number of discrimination and harassment incidents on the UT campus,” Allport said. “There is a significant disconnect between learning about diversity in the classroom and appreciating diversity while practicing equality in social and professional settings outside the classroom.”

The response team was created last year, but the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement decided on the public launch this year. Miller said they wanted to encourage the community to learn more about the team and are promoting it as the program individuals can go to for assistance with their concerns about discrimination.

“The response team will help connect the dots across campus when racial and discriminatory biases arise,” he said. “It will allow for representatives from across the University to share resources in dealing with these incidents.”

The CCRT will focus on investigating specific reported incidents and provide support services for the individuals involved, Miller said. Other core functions include providing education on similar incidents and evaluating the response process to improve crisis management.

Sherri Sanders, associate vice president for campus diversity and strategic initiatives, said CCRT will play a role in creating a more inclusive campus culture while also looking at patterns of reports that impact individuals within the community.

Miller said he believes the program will create a baseline to compare incident reports and statistics in the future. He said tracking these numbers will allow for a more comprehensive and accurate sense of the campus climate and what can be done to improve it.

Psychology junior Ashley Hall, co-director of queer activist student organization StandOut, said a program like the CCRT is long overdue whether or not discriminatory incidents are on the rise.

“While the current state of diversity and equality at UT is the best it’s ever been, there are still issues with racist, sexist and homophobic commentary from professors and student organizations,” Hall said. “It seems the program was created to address issues and incidents that have been ongoing but not well-addressed before now.”

Members of the response team include staff from the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, the Division of Student Affairs and University Operations.

Miller said the response team will take more of a reactive approach rather than a proactive one for the time being.

“Our focus is to establish the best response to reported incidents, including help from our representatives across campus that are engaged in diversity education,” he said. “We are tailoring our efforts to improve the campus climate as a response team, but we will eventually initiate our own efforts to continue promoting an inclusive environment at the University.”

Printed on Monday, April 9, 2012 as: Team to investigate discriminatory events launches on campus

James Moore, associate provost in the Office of Diversity at the Ohio State University spoke at the Herman Sweatt Symposium Wednesday night. He discussed the possible solutions to the steady number of under performing African American males in today’s society.

Photo Credit: Raveena Bhalara | Daily Texan Staff

Ever since his childhood, James Moore said he has dealt with the stigma of inferiority associated with being an African-American male. As a result, his lifelong passion has become attempting to rise above this inequality, a burning passion which permeates his entire being, he said.

The Division of Diversity and Community Engagement hosted The 2012 Heman Sweatt Symposium on Civil Rights at John Hargis Hall to continue Sweatt’s legacy of education and excellence in African-American males. Sweatt was the first African-American male admitted to the UT School of Law, following the ruling of the landmark Supreme Court case of 1950, Sweatt v. Painter.

James Moore, associate provost in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at Ohio State University, spoke at the 26th annual symposium yesterday, and discussed numerous solutions to the social issues currently facing African-American males. He said people are unwilling to identify underlying issues as problems because that requires taking action and fixing it.

“We know there’s a problem facing African-American males,” he said. “Turn on the news and it’s apparent there’s issues facing the African-American male population.”

He said adults are giving up on African-American children entirely too early. Data analysis was done on the demographics of third graders in order to see how many prisons should be built in certain areas of the country depending on the amount of African-Americans present, he said.

A big misconception inherent in our society remains that nothing is wrong within the African-American male community, Leonard Moore, associate vice president for academic diversity initiatives in the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, said.

“Many people have already accepted the fact that black males have a harder time succeeding in higher education,” Moore said. ”By encouraging and fostering initiatives for African-American males, it’s amazing what young men can do when they have someone behind them who actually supports and stands up for them.”

Leonard Moore said in order to execute change at UT, the most influential African-American male groups across campus must be targeted, which he said were student athletes, black Greeks and successful students and leaders.

Moore said these men are not products of their environment, but products of expectations placed upon them often by people who love them. For example, once a young man skilled in football is repeatedly told he must attend college, play football and buy his family a house, he begins to associate his identity with this notion of what he does and not who he truly is, he said. Laughter filled the room when Moore said party fliers for a certain African-American fraternity repeatedly contained images of scantily clad women.

“Popularity is a double-edged sword, where one must learn how to use it in order to elevate the people, not bring them down,” he said. “Party attendance won’t be affected if those images are not used on fliers.”

Moore said if the alpha males are not dealt with, the root of the problem is ignored and nothing will change. When you deal with the most influential males, everyone else will eventually fall in line, he said.

Petroleum engineering sophomore Samantha Fuller said she attended the symposium for extra credit in her sociology class, Gender, Race and Class in America.

“I hoped to gain a deeper understanding of how males in America are affected by racism and how they differ according to their race,” she said. “We are learning about the same types of things in our sociology class.”

In order to improve the retention rates of African-American males in educational institutions, black males must be engaged in learning through things that interest them in real life and things they can relate to, Leonard Moore said.

Raising his voice, Moore said, “How can UT-Austin have one of the highest ranked education colleges in the country and yet the public schools in the same district simultaneously fall apart?”

“If Frederick Douglass can teach himself how to read, we can for sure teach our young people how to read,” he said.

Fifty Texas Exes alumni chapters and the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement will team up to host The Project, a community service event aiming to renovate two Austin area neighborhoods on Feb. 25.

Amory Baril, the Volunteer and Learning Center’s program coordinator and The Project’s advisor, said the Project’s collaboration with UT alumni led to the launch of Texas Exes Care About The Project. For the first time since The Project was launched, 13 years ago, Baril said the partnership expects more than 2000 volunteers to participate in the community service project.

“This is a network-wide commitment to service throughout the month of February, anchored by the campus-run event,” Baril said. “We’ll have over 50 volunteers from the Austin chapter at the local event, which far exceeds our expectations from the first year of the program.”

This collaboration was made possible by the staff of The Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, which houses the Volunteer and Service Learning Center, Baril said.

“With DDCE’s mission being centered around community outreach and the Texas Exes having so many chapters who contribute so much to their communities, it seemed natural to unite those chapters’ service efforts around this event,” Baril said.

Lydia Cleveland, social work junior and the Project’s co-chair, said Project 2012 will be working with the Dove Springs and Onion Creek Plantation community located in Southeast Austin to provide services for schools, parks, churches, two alleyways and 25 resident locations within the area.

“We’ll mainly be doing beautification projects, such as landscaping, mulching and painting,” Cleveland said. “However, some sites are a little more complicated, so volunteers will be doing repairs as well.”

Cleveland said The Project will also enlist the help of Home Depot to teach volunteers the skills needed to complete their renovations.

“Thankfully, we’re also working closely with Home Depot, so they have agreed to not only donate their time to train students in charge of the volunteers but also to help out,” said Cleveland.

Cleveland, who has volunteered with The Project since 2010, said it is a great opportunity for UT alumni to continue their passion for community service even after leaving campus and offers an amazing opportunity to connect young people to a community in need of support.

Advertising senior Daniel Van said it means a lot that UT alumni have decided to help The Project, because it has so far only been a student based organization.

“It’s great that these alumni want to give back to the community that they grew up in,” Van said. “They are going to get to work together with current students and use their past experiences to motivate those who are volunteering.”

Dr. Shaun Harper, an associate professor from the University of Pennsylvania, talks about African-American and Latino men in higher education at the Latino Male Symposium. The event was hosted by Project MALES and focused on developing dialogue concerning the Hispanic male education crisis.

Photo Credit: Ryan Edwards | Daily Texan Staff

The University introduced a new research program that aims to address the declining number of Latino males pursuing higher education at a symposium Friday.

UT's Division of Diversity and Community Engagement hosted the Latino Male Symposium on campus and presented the initiatives of its new program Project MALES, or Mentoring to Achieve Latino Educational Success. The program is designed to find solutions to educational obstacles Latino male students commonly face.

Shaun Harper, assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said in fall 2009, UT had 7.7 percent more Latino women enrolled than men, and 14.2 percent more Latino women than men successfully completed their degrees.

Victor Saenz, UT assistant professor and Project MALES director, said the program will conduct research on Latino male students’ experiences as they transition from high school to college and provide resources such as personalized mentoring and career advising to help students succeed.

“This is not about writing for obscure journals and bookshelves, but it is about translating that research into action,” Saenz said. “This project will truly be where the rubber meets the road in addressing this crisis.”

Francisco Sanchez, assistant vice president of enrollment management at Texas A&M University in San Antonio, said many Latino male students struggle with pressures such as a lack of financial stability and family support. He said the cultural concept of machismo, or masculinity, may make them feel pressured to enter the work force and begin contributing to family finances immediately after high school.

“I don’t think we reach out young enough to these kids, and I think we need to go even further,” Sanchez said. “We need to talk to families much more early on about financial management and what their options are.”

Julio Ramos, director of student affairs at UT San Antonio’s College of Business, said the university’s administrators have implemented programs such as assigning counselors to smaller groups of students to give Latino males a close-knit support system in which they feel comfortable discussing their concerns.

“Not many Latino males have that role model once they get to college because many of them are first generation college students,” Ramos said. “I’ve seen that in working with these students, they tend to lack confidence about whether they can succeed, and we try to instill that in them.”

Administrators tend to have a difficult time convincing male students to actively participate in programs and attend events, said Michael Nava, executive director of the TRiO student support services programs with UT’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement.

“Sometimes these students don’t want help because they don’t necessarily connect with or trust who they’re talking to,” Nava said. “Part of what the project is looking to do is get students to understand the usefulness of the resources available to them and to get them to utilize them.”