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Inspire Leadership Series: Tanisha Jenkins

When Tanisha Jenkins, director of Multicultural Student Life at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville proudly took the stage as president-elect at the 2017 Southern Association for College Student Affairs (SACSA) conference in Chattanooga, TN, she reflected on the years of dedication and hard work she had invested in SACSA.  For the past 14 years, Jenkins has

served in almost every corner of the association, leading through committee work and elected positions.  During her closing remarks at the 2017 conference, she warmly stated that “the love from individuals in our Association has helped me through some difficult and challenging professional and personal experiences, but has also celebrated my successes and encouraged me to do even more.”

When we sat down to learn more about Tanisha and her role as president, her commitment to the Association was evident.  Serving as president of an association is not only a tremendous commitment, but it provides an opportunity to leave a unique legacy in your profession.  We wanted to learn what her role entailed and to get some professional advice about leadership.


What were the key initiatives you advocated for during your year as president?

Jenkins: We assessed and reviewed the organizational structure of SACSA and how we prepare all members of the association for leadership roles within the association.  The executive council proposed a reorganization of the executive council roles, repurposing a member-at-large position to a new Vice President of Scholarship & Research that will go into effect in November 2019.

What will this new position be responsible for within SACSA?

Jenkins: The VP of Scholarship & Research will have an opportunity to work with our Research & Assessment Committee, the College Student Affairs Journal, our faculty grad preparation committee chair, and will serve as our liaison for the Council for the Advancement of Standards (CAS).

Proposing an organizational change is a big deal!  What was a key takeaway from your experience as president?

Jenkins: Serving as president, I was able to see the association from a different lens.  I was involved in leadership roles within the association for 12 years, with service on the executive council for 6 years.  Now having served as president, I have a better understanding of how the association works behind the scenes and gained a more thorough understanding of the leadership and work of past SACSA presidents.

As you look back on your involvement with SACSA and your experience as president, what was your favorite part?

Jenkins: Throughout my time with SACSA, the colleagues that I have met and interacted with are now my friends and family.  When I think back to the annual conference last November, one of the things that makes me smile is that I was able to have my mom there with me.  My parents are extremely proud of me, but sometimes don’t completely understand what I actually do when I say that I work in student affairs. It was special to have my mom share that experience with me at the annual conference.

You first got involved in SACSA as a graduate student.  What advice do you have for current graduate students who are just now being introduced to SACSA?

Jenkins: In graduate school, my assistantship supervisor was Melissa Shivers, who later served as Dean of Students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.  As a graduate

assistant, Dr. Shivers, who was very involved in SACSA and serving as registration chair, provided me the professional development funds to assist with the conference attendance costs. I had the opportunity to help her with her registration committee responsibility, so I was already involved and helping with a committee my first year attending the conference.  Being able to experience that first conference, meet other professionals from all over the southeast who are doing great work at their institutions, and meet other graduate students was something that was helpful for me that first year.

So what advice do you have for professionals new to SACSA?

Jenkins: Attend the conference and learn about the Association.  It is key to be engaged and learn all that you can that you can do to be the best student affairs practitioner and professional possible. That entails going to the workshops and attending the various keynote addresses, to learning about the committees where you can serve in SACSA.  My first year, I started getting involved in committees, and then began serving as committee chairs, and finally running for elected positions.

Getting involved will reignite your passion for the work that we do and you will be surro

unded by colleagues who are helping to remind you why we do what we do.  You will come back to campus energized and ready to make a difference.

What are some things that you were able to bring back to your role here at UT?

Jenkins: My professional positions, such as the role I serve in at UT as the director of Multicultural Student Life, prepared me for a role such as president of SACSA.  A lot of what I do in my professional role is mirrored in what I did as president, including leading and guiding a team, building relationships, providing vision and direction on how to move the association forward, planning large-scale events and initiatives, and overseeing a budget.  It all intersects together.

What impact do associations like SACSA have on professionals in our industry?

Jenkins: Associations like SACSA allow us to continue to grow and develop as student affairs practitioners.  It provides us with the opportunity to continue to sharpen our skills in the work that we do.  Higher education, and the students that we are serving change each and every day.  It allows us to come together to discuss the future of Higher Education and Student affairs as a whole and to prepare for what that may look like on our campuses.  We can bounce ideas off of colleagues from institutions of similar size and scope.

If someone wanted to follow in your footsteps, what advice would you give?

Jenkins: Be prepared, be organized, and be able to articulate your “why”.  Know and understand why you want to get involved with your professional association.  If your reason for involvement, is just so that you can possess a title and you don’t do the work, you will not last long.  Make sure that you are effectively and efficiently taking care of your professional job responsibilities on your campus while serving in these volunteer roles with your association.  And, it’s also extremely important that you enlist the support of your direct supervisor as you consider serving and running for elected positions.

Jenkins: I have truly enjoyed the opportunity to serve in SACSA, whether in a committee role or in an elected position.  SACSA has helped me to grow and develop as a professional, and I appreciate and value the relationships that I have built within SACSA.  Those are the people that I call for insight and support, and they encourage and empower me to continue the important work on our campus.

Tanisha Jenkins started leading during graduate school, investing her time and focus on SACSA and making the association the best it can be. She volunteered, chaired committees, served on the executive board, and has led the association as president.  SACSA values inclusiveness, professionalism, and collegiality and we are proud that Tanisha Jenkins was able to bring a bit of her Volunteer spirit to this incredible role and association.


In the Inspire Leadership series, we are celebrating the leaders within our Student Life community to spark inspiration.

Do you know someone who has inspired leadership in your department?  Nominate their experience to be featured by emailing us at