by Kiera Przygoda
Tenea Lowery, assistant director for the Office of Sorority and Fraternity Life, was recently recognized with other distinguished women across campus at the Multicultural Mentoring Program’s-MMP Women’s History Program and awarded the Outstanding Advisor Award during Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. Pi Epsilon Chapter’s 5thAnnual Women’s Appreciation Awards on March 6, 2019. I sat down with Ms. Tenea as she eagerly talked about her role at the university and the impact she strives to make on the students and the larger university.
How did you end up at the University of Tennessee?
My path to the University of Tennessee has been a unique part of my overall journey. I wanted to be at a place where I could balance what I did professionally and could flourish personally. When exploring institutions that I would felt best would meet those needs, I thought the University of Tennessee Knoxville would be a great place for me to thrive. Most importantly, allowing me to work in a personal area of interest and passion. It was important to me to not be consumed in the busyness of my work but, be able to be intentional in the impact that I made through my work.
What is your role as Assistant Director of Sorority and Fraternity Life?
I serve as the primary advisor to the National Pan-Hellenic Council and the Multicultural Greek Council; UTK’s two primary councils that support cultural based sororities and fraternities. This consist of managing matters such as membership intake, program management, and health and safety regulations that help organizations stay in compliances on a local, state, regional, and national level. However, those are just a few of the day-to-day task I manage to support various chapters within NPHC and MGC. There are many other entities outside of my role that I am also connected with, Division of Student Life Diversity Committee, DOS Assessment Champions, and Commissions for Blacks.
In addition to my primary roles with OSFL helping to support NPHC and MGC, I also help manage several of the assessment projects for the Office of Sorority and Fraternity Life. Assessment helps us to be able to tell the story. Specifically exploring, are we connecting with the strategic priorities of the university/division/office, what are the outcomes, are we helping our students develop, and how do we improve our day-to-day engagements.
Is this your first role with the university? What have you worked in previously?
Yes, I have worked at UTK for close to five years. However, I have worked in the field of student affairs for 13 years. After I graduated from the University of North Texas with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and a minor in ethnic studies, I moved to Atlanta, Georgia to pursue my master’s degree in Sociology at Clark Atlanta University. I was intentional in diversifying my education background by attending a HBCU-historically black college/university and PWI-predominately white institution because it allowed me to have a healthy perspective of the values and attributes both institutions offered.
After I completed my master’s degree, my first student affairs experience was at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas as the Coordinator of First-Year Experience; working directly with first-generation college students as well as first-year college students. Later, I transitioned to serve as the Interim Campus Life Director, serving a larger base of student organizations, student government association, and campus programming.
As I advance my professional experience, I was given the opportunity to work at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia as the Assistant Director for the Center for Multicultural Student Services. This is where I had my first full experience working with a diverse range of culturally based sororities and fraternities, multicultural programming, advising graduate students, and serving as the director for a summer program for high school young women- Female Institute for Learning and Development. Later I transitioned to serving as the Associate Director where I was able to provide leadership development and support to student organizations and leaders.
Are you involved in any professional organizations outside of the university?
Because of my affiliation with sorority and fraternity life, I am affiliated with the Association for Sorority and Fraternity Advisors (AFA); a professional organization for fraternal advisors. Also, I am still financially active with my sorority, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. Nu Zeta Knoxville Alumni Chapter. It is through this avenue that I am able to be involved in service and programming opportunities that impact the larger Knoxville community.
What does leadership mean to you? How do you try to be a leader every day?
Leading by example. I have had a lot of people in my life who have helped me get to where I am. The reason I went into student affairs was to give back exactly what was given to me. By striving to be a leader every day, I try to challenge and guide student leaders to the values and purpose of their organizations. Furthermore, I attempt to mentor students to identify their personal values and/or organization’s goals to enhance their personal and leadership development skills.
In return, I am hoping that I am preparing students to enhance themselves personally and the outreach efforts of their organization. In addition, indirectly my goal is to prepare them with the knowledge, awareness, or skills to be successful in the next professional aspects of their career field of choice.
What advice would you give others on how to become a great leader?
Patience. As new professionals, you won’t be perfect when you first come into your role. It is important that you have the foundational skillsets when you come into the field, but leadership is about being intentional to continue to develop and evolve your skills. Having ownership to enhance your skillsets by going to professional workshops/conferences and staying connected to best practices in the field are essential. Most important, staying linked with the needs of students is just as important. In my opinion, in order to be an effective leader one has to understand the value of servant leadership; focusing on the needs and support of others.
How do you make women of color feel comfortable and welcome on campus?
In representation; whether it be how I wear my head wrap or show up in professional spaces comfortable in my own authentic cultural identity, it’s important that other professional women of color provide positive examples for other female students of color to see.
Also, I try to provide safe spaces to listen, provide words of encouragement, and support to all students. However, having the unique connection to women of color, I want to let them know that they are not in this journey alone. Just because I am staff, does not mean that I do not understand the complexities of piloting systems as a woman of color. Having to navigate different systems with the skin that you are in does not mean we cannot achieve; it just means we have different ways of navigating those systems.
What are some ways that you believe people can include diversity and inclusion in their work and everyday life?
When looking at diversity and inclusion, ask yourself “who is not at the table?” Often times we operate with our own monolithic lens on what we feel is right based on tradition. However, when we are looking through those lenses, we don’t ask ourselves who is missing from the table. It is the intentionality to be inclusive and equitable in your day to day operations to ask, “Who is not at the table and how do I bring them along to not only to sit at but, have adequate resources to stay at the table”.
What does the Outstanding Advisor award mean to you?
Having been recognized by student organizations meant the world to me. Often times I wonder if I am making a difference and is my intent being impactful. To have students recognize your efforts and/or hear them articulate that they see the hard work that you are doing is very reaffirming.
Ms. Tenea Lowery continually embodies great leadership on our campus. She represents diversity and inclusion in all of her work and always practices the intent of growth for the students and the larger university. The University of Tennessee is fortunate to have her leading and helping the Volunteers with all their future successes.
Kiera Przygoda is a junior at the University of Tennessee majoring in communication studies. She is the undergraduate public relations intern for the Office of Communication and Marketing. She has a passion for writing and media and a love for Disney. Kiera is also a student assistant at SEC Network and VFL Films.