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New Assistant Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion wants to make students to feel seen

New Assistant Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion wants to make students to feel seen

New Assistant Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion wants to make students to feel seen
April 15
09:01 2022

The university has appointed a new assistant vice president and director for diversity and inclusion in “its commitment to fight against racism and bias, and creating social justice and equity,” according to a university press release.

The new AVP, Teresa McKinney, told the North Texas Daily she wants to engage with students directly and be able to affect positive change by serving the community’s needs. McKinney previously held a position at the university as vice president of Student Affairs for several years before going to work at Texas Southern University.

“Truly, you have to be passionate about this work because this work is hard and the work is difficult at times because not everyone is receptive to this work being done,” McKinney said.

McKinney said she is a “servant leader” and someone who listens to the needs of who she serves before taking action. Since her start on March 7, McKinney’s work has primarily revolved around organizing the university’s equity and diversity conference that was held on March 23. Going forward, McKinney wants to focus on reaching out to students from all over the university.

“We’re going to have more town halls [and] we’re going to have more table talks,” McKinney said. “We’re going to have tents so that we have tent talks. We’re going to make sure that we’re doing additional topics, additional trainings that will be open to anyone. We’re going to try and create or enhance partnerships that already [exist] and create new partnerships.”

McKinney’s appointment fills a position that had been vacant since August 2021 and was decided by a committee that was headed by Vice President for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access Joanne Woodard. Woodard could not provide a comment in time for print but said she was “thrilled” to have McKinney back on campus in an online announcement.

McKinney said she feels that her experience working at TSU, a historically Black university, gives her unique insight into her new position.

“Many HBCUs are invisible or people dismiss them,” McKinney said. “Many of our students here at UNT are invisible or people dismiss them, [people] see them as less than out in the community […] and so we’re bringing attention to the fact that we’re fighting for human rights.”

For some students, McKinney’s appointment comes at a time where issues of diversity and inclusiveness are being challenged. Student Government Association President-elect Jermaine “JT” Turner said he sees McKinney’s appointment as an opportunity to align the students’ and faculty’s goals.

“Our biggest thing is making this campus a more inclusive space,” Turner said. “Some big inclusion things that we forget about at times  [are] our students [who] have disabilities. It’s important that students know what the [Office of Disability Access] can do for them — and that’s inside and outside of the classroom — and those resources need to be better highlighted in orientation and just once they get acclimated to campus.”

Other students, like political science and history senior Tara Olson, are skeptical about the new leadership’s ability to affect change in light of recent protests on campus focused on transgender individuals’ rights. Olson was a co-organizer of some of the said protests, which resulted in university President Neal Smatresk promising further meetings with students to voice their concerns. The last the organizers heard about the potential town hall was March 10, when Smatresk said it would occur after spring break.

“[If McKinney] was going to change [something], she’d be involved right now with this town hall and she would be the one pushing it forward, but all the administrators are letting it fall to the wayside just hoping we’ll forget it,” Olson said.

In regards to the recent on-campus controversy, as well as looking forward to the future of the safety and wellbeing of students, McKinney said students will not go unseen.

“This is about creating an environment that is going to support the success, the value, the respect, the equity and the inclusivity for everyone,” McKinney said. “We want to be one of the stepping stones. There’s so many at UNT — different people, different departments — we want to be a part of that pathway to [students’] success.”

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Ayden Runnels

Ayden Runnels

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