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Student swims in the TREC pool

Making Space: Creating Partnerships for Student Engagement

Student Life creates space for all Volunteers by offering engaging and transformative programming through strategic partnerships and collaboration with offices across campus. Student Life staff are dedicated to ensuring each student feels like they belong at UT and strategically connect students to resources offered by other offices across campus. 

The Office of Multicultural Student Life (MSL) and RecSports partnered to host a variety of programs, including a lecture on the barriers and triumphs in the history of swimming, and a workshop about the basics of camping with the RecSports outdoor pursuits program. RecSports also partnered with MSL and the Pride Center to offer programs designed to engage students who might not have interacted with that office before, such as rock climbing events and Pride Zumba.

RecSports assistant director, Jon Janis, oversees aquatics and outdoor pursuits and recognized that there are some access barriers for historically marginalized students. He explained that the team wanted to utilize the resources within the department to help students address and break through some of those barriers.

“As I started in my new role last year, I reached out to different campus partners and one was [Associate Dean of Students] Crystal Hardeman-Ikem,” said Janis. “We sat and brainstormed ideas about how RecSports could be a leader in diversity, equity, and inclusion work within the division. I brought those ideas back to my team and we decided which ones we could move forward with along with listening to some student employee voices. After having some initial plans, we started the conversations with MSL and the Pride Center to ensure we were utilizing inclusive language with our promotional efforts and assisting us in reaching out to those specific student audiences.”

Following the meeting with Hardeman-Ikem, NaQuaina Moore, assistant director of Multicultural Student Life, was brought into the conversation to discuss partnerships and programs moving forward.

“I am an outdoor enthusiast, so I was pumped to collaborate with these various offices. I first reached out to [Outdoor Pursuits Coordinator] Josh Elder. We met to discuss the outdoor pursuits program. Then, after meeting with Josh, I met with [Aquatics and Safety Coordinator] Hannah Stewart to host the swim program.”

Getting students involved and engaged is at the core of the work of Student Life offices. Being able to connect with students who haven’t felt like there was an opportunity to connect before is important. 

The Breaking Barriers rock climbing series had 38 total participations over 3 event dates

Group swim classes had 25 total participations from 8 unique student, faculty, and staff members.

“These partnerships and collaborations are important especially for multicultural students because representation matters,” said Moore. “There are not many people of color who hike, climb, and swim. Our students first need access, which they have as students, and then they need to see someone who looks like them to know it is safe to do these activities.” 

To further involve and educate students interacting with the Office of Multicultural Student Life on health and wellness topics, Moore explains that she and her team will continue to collaborate with other health-related offices in the future. 

“Our office is planning to do more of these activities through an MSL initiative called the LIFT_ME series,” said Moore. “LIFT_ME is an acronym for Leaning in for the Mental Endurance. We want to educate and empower students in the area of health and wellness through this series. We also plan to collaborate with the Center for Health Education and Wellness.”

Similarly, the Pride Center has seen an increase in partnership not only within Student Life but with campus partners as well. When the center staff brought the iconic AIDS Memorial Quilt to campus for the first time since 2012, the McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture, the College of Education Health and Human Sciences, and the Student Union were able to offer support for viewings of the quilt, a symbol of the thousands of lives that have been lost to AIDS. 

“For the McClung Museum, showcasing such a critical artwork was an obvious tie-in to our mission,” Katy Malone, curator of academic programs at the museum said. “We should be creating space and dialogue for compassion and understanding of the world around us, and I personally think the quilt is one of the most important pieces of art ever made.”

When offices and departments make conscious efforts to program for students who might not have felt welcome or like they have a place in those offices, it helps to offset the programming load from affinity offices that provide programs and support for those students. The Pride Center isn’t the sole programming office for students who identify in the LGBTQ+ community; other offices can partner to make space for students across Student Life’s programming areas. 

“Campus support for our office mission has increased over the last few years,” says Bonnie Johnson, coordinator of the Pride Center. “Partnerships and collaborations help us reach students where they are. It also allows the Pride Center staff to focus on direct student support and peer-to-peer relationships.”

Students pose together at the Black Issues Conference

In an effort to more equitably demonstrate the educational opportunities and events happening on campus during heritage months, Student Life took steps to establish a campus-wide planning effort. Instead of MSL being the only responsible office for celebrating Hispanic Latinx Heritage Month, Native American and Indigenous Heritage Month, Black History Month, and Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the staff are encouraging offices to consider how they can create programming in their area to connect, celebrate, and educate students.

Collaborations help departments offer unique and engaging programs that reach every student in every corner of campus. It allows for more inclusion in events and for students to form more connections, leading to a better experience during their time at UT.

Collaborative Calendaring

Collaborative calendaring efforts began in October 2021 with Hispanic Latinx Heritage Month and continued with Native American and Indigenous Heritage Month in November, with increasing success in recruiting partners from other areas of campus. By February 2022, campus-wide collaboration broadened with the adoption of a Black History Month calendar that included multiple events happening nearly every day.

The 2022 Black History Month calendar included:

25 events hosted by departments outside of Student Life

11 events hosted in partnership with a Student Life department

19 events hosted virtually or with a virtual option

3 events hosted specifically for faculty and staff