Texas Tech University

Division of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Leads the Charge in Fostering Success for All Red Raiders

Amanda Castro-Crist

February 3, 2020

With 14 units and numerous collaborations with on- and off-campus partners, the division offers support for multiple communities through diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

The Division of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DDEI) is one of the largest entities at Texas Tech University. DDEI works to foster, affirm, celebrate, engage and strengthen communities through diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. These efforts support the University Strategic Plan to educate and empower a diverse student body, enable innovative research and creative activities and transform lives and communities through outreach projects and engaged scholarship.

DDEI has evolved throughout the years to better assist and support students, faculty and staff who work, study and live on campus, and the countless people who visit Texas Tech every day. Currently, 14 units comprise the division and collaborate with additional on- and off-partners, offering programming and services among areas of diversity including race and ethnicity, gender, age, veteran status and people with disabilities:

Carol A. Sumner
Carol A. Sumner

"We are educators who serve, celebrate, engage and support," said Carol A. Sumner, vice president of the division and chief diversity officer. "We are catalysts and change agents, accountability partners, a university resource, colleagues and cheerleaders. Our work is rooted and grounded in the fundamental recognition that people who are affirmed, supported and engaged feel a better sense of belonging, and that they matter."

From System to university

Though the division was officially established as the Division of Institutional Diversity, Equity & Community Engagement in February 2009, diversity, inclusivity and equity efforts existed prior to this throughout the Texas Tech University System. Recognizing the need for an entity to lead those efforts, John T. Montford, the first chancellor of the System, created the Office of Cultural Diversity under the direction of Cathy H. Allen, special assistant to the chancellor for cultural diversity, in August 1997.

"I felt pretty strongly about having a campus and student body that reflected the demographics of the country," Montford said. "You have to set the message from the top, and I felt an important part of the message we needed to send was that we were a diverse institution committed to reaching out to everyone who wanted to get an education and had the motivation and desire to attend."

In November 1997, Allen presented a list of goals to the Board of Regents outlining the work the office would do to help create and foster a campus climate valuing diversity. It included the recruitment, hiring and retention of culturally diverse employees and providing professional development activities to help all employees better understand their own and other cultures. It also addressed updating curriculum and teaching strategies that would encourage student involvement in and respect of diverse perspectives, and providing student support activities to facilitate their success.

Allen and her team also hoped to create a campus community that was welcoming to students and employees, while also encouraging community engagement.

"Our primary charge was to increase diversity among faculty, staff and students and really make some inroads into various communities, especially the African American community," said Allen, who now serves as the director of recruitment and employment at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. "We were primarily focused on diverse student recruitment, along with diverse faculty recruitment, sexual harassment training and conducting the campus climate survey."

As the work got underway, the office and roles within it continued to evolve to meet the needs of the System and the university. During the spring of 1998, Allen was named vice chancellor for community and multicultural affairs. Soon after, the office was renamed to the Office of Community and Multicultural Affairs.

In the early 2000s, Allen said, the university began to focus more intently on ways to improve retention rates among minority students and recruitment efforts in the Lubbock community. The result of those efforts was the creation of Mentor Tech during fall 2002 under the leadership of Cory Powell.

Cory Powell
Cory Powell

The program aims to enhance the educational experience of students, particularly of those from historically underrepresented populations, through programming, services, advocacy and campus and community involvement. Students in the program attend workshops throughout the year that focus on academic and cultural topics, attend professional networking events and participate in social and community service events hosted by the program. Faculty and staff serve as mentors to the students, offering insight to campus and academic life.

"Mentor Tech became the cornerstone of what would eventually become the division we have today," said Powell, who now serves as a director in the Office of Institutional Diversity. "We worked to recruit and retain students of color, supporting students as they came in and then helping them as they moved forward. We worked with both minority and majority faculty and staff. We connected with community.

"The early efforts we were fortunate to be a part of laid a lot of the groundwork for the other units that became part of the division. There was a model already established, connecting us with the community. Organizations wanted to be part of Texas Tech, but they did not know how. Mentor Tech served as a catalyst."

Soon, university-specific diversity efforts began to shift to the institutions within the System. In 2004, Juan Muñoz was appointed special assistant to the president for diversity at Texas Tech. In 2009, he was named senior vice president for the Division of Institutional Diversity, Equity & Community Engagement, serving in that role until he was named president of the University of Houston-Downtown in April 2017.

Under Muñoz, additional units were created within the division, like the award-winning Chess Program. Others were added to serve more communities, including veterans and first-generation students. Programming expanded to include various speaker series, like the Latino Lecture series aimed at raising awareness and education on issues affecting Latinos. Another series, Difficult Dialogues, offered the chance to engage in discussions on sensitive or difficult topics, like creating healthy relationships, the 2016 U.S. Presidential Race, college athlete compensation and campus carry legislation.

Poetry slam
The division hosts a robust calendar of events throughout the year.

The division also created the annual Celebrate Diversity Awards Banquet, which features a keynote speaker and an awards ceremony that recognizes those within the Texas Tech and Lubbock communities who exemplify inclusive excellence. Past speakers have included Edward James Olmos, Terrence Howard, Soledad O'Brien Anna Navarro and Cyntoia Brown Long.

In January 2017, the university's first Office of LGBTQIA Education & Engagement at Texas Tech was established under the direction of Jody Randall. The office provides programming and advocacy efforts aimed at strengthening the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual community while also serving as a resource for those who identify as allies of the community.

"When I was hired in 2000, there were conversations about how to provide services to the LGBTQIA community," Powell said. "Now, we have a whole office that's specializes in that, and I think it is just reflective of the times and the number of students that we now have on campus."

More changes and milestones

When Muñoz left the university, Elizabeth Sharp, associate chair and associate professor of Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) within the College of Human Sciences, served as interim vice president. The division began reorganizing, which included the dissolution, combination and creation of units and a divisional name change to the Division of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.

Fall 2017 brought record overall enrollment numbers and an important diversity milestone – 27.8 percent of the student body was Hispanic, making it the first time Texas Tech met the enrollment criteria to be recognized as a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) by the U.S. Department of Education.

In June 2018, Sumner was named the division vice president and chief diversity officer for the university, continuing the reorganization of the department and adding additional initiatives and campus partners.

Less than a year later, in May 2019, the university achieved official designation as an HSI. The designation makes Texas Tech eligible for up to $10 million in additional funding from the U.S. Department of Education to support the enhancement of educational opportunities for all students through the improvement of scientific or laboratory equipment, construction or renovation of facilities, faculty development, purchasing educational materials, tutoring or counseling, establishment and/or funding of endowments, distance learning instruction, teacher education and student support services.

"The win is knowing HSI designation represents the work of a dedicated community to increase opportunities for historically underrepresented populations while laying the foundation for the growth in our Hispanic student population," Sumner said.

Award-winning work, service and support

The work to increase diversity, equity and inclusivity on campus has been recognized at the local, state and national levels. In 2011 and every year since then, the university has received INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine's Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Award, which recognizes colleges and universities demonstrating an outstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion through initiatives, programs, and outreach; student recruitment, retention and completion; and hiring practices for faculty and staff.

Since 2016, Texas Tech also has been named an annual Diversity Champion by the magazine, which recognizes institutions that serve as role models of excellence for other institutions by setting the standard for thousands of other campus communities striving for diversity and inclusion.

The units within the division also consistently earn accolades and recognition specific to work in their areas. The Chess Program has earned more than 10 national titles, including a first-place win at the 2019 Pan-American Intercollegiate Chess Championship in December. Head coach, director and 2018 Chess Hall of Famer Alex Onischuk, who was named Grandmaster of the Year in 2014 and has been ranked as one of the top 100 players in the world for the past 20 years, leads the program.

Mentor Tech, which began with just 46 students and more than 100 mentors in 2002, has grown to serve more than 3,300 students since its creation, with an average retention rate of 87 percent. Work led by those within the First Generation Transition & Mentoring Programs earned the university a spot within the inaugural cohort of First Forward Institutions, an initiative of Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA) and The Suder Foundation.

In 2014, efforts led by MVP earned Texas Tech recognition as the first Purple Heart University in Texas, and the university is consistently featured as a best or top choice for service members, veterans and their families on annual national rankings. The university also has been named a Premier Campus by the Campus Pride Index (CPI), a national assessment tool that evaluates the progress of colleges and universities in becoming more inclusive, welcoming and respectful of LGBTQIA individuals and allies. Since 2017, the university has jumped from 2 out of 5 stars on the CPI, to 4.5, tying for second place out of Texas institutions.

Throughout the years, the division has remained true to its roots with an active calendar of community activities, giving away thousands of backpacks full of school supplies at the annual Back to School Fiesta, inviting countless children to Red Raider football games and campus tours, and hosting UIL events and competitions on campus throughout the year.

El Grito
Since 2010, Texas Tech has kicked off Hispanic Heritage Month with the El Grito celebration, which honors the legacy of Mexico's declaration of independence from Spain while sharing history and cultures from Latin American countries.

"I look at it, and I see a lot of progress, but I always go back to the foundation," Powell said. "How things start is how they continue, and to have been a part of a lot of those transitions and then to be in a position now to continue to lay the foundation upon which the future of the diversity and inclusion efforts, it's hopeful. I came to Texas Tech in 1988 as a student and it was very, very different than it is now. To watch how we have grown and all of the things happening, to get to help other students and then be able to see my own son, Cory, succeed and move towards graduation from Texas Tech, it comes full circle."

As the university approaches its centennial, Powell and those within the division said their work is far from done. The goal is to continue to work toward an environment where every person who steps on campus feels welcome, supported and able to succeed.

"It does not matter where they come from or what they look like or how much money they have or do not have," Sumner said. "It's how you make a person feel that matters. It is through the acknowledgment of our differences that we become better global citizens. It is through our shared experiences, traditions and ways of being that we strengthen as a community."