When Dr. Richard Reddick walks underneath the shady oak trees lining the liberal arts hub known as “the six pack,” he smiles to himself as he reminisces about his first two years at UT Austin.
“I remember walking by these buildings 25 years ago with a D-minus paper in my hand and wondering how I’d ever get through college,”says Reddick, associate professor of higher education administration and leadership. “Now it’s kind of mind-blowing when I think about the fact that I’m a professor and an administrator in the DDCE, setting the agenda for the university on how we educate our students about diversity.”
When Reddick first came to the Forty Acres in the spring of 1990, he moved into a residence hall where he felt disoriented in an environment so far removed from that of his home. Yet he was only a few miles away from the Southeast Austin neighborhood where he grew up.
“I had no engagement with the university until I became a student here,” Reddick recalls. “In my neighborhood, people saw UT as more of an athletic institution than a place where they would send their kids to college.”
While navigating an expansive, predominately white campus, Reddick started to feel out of his league in the College of Liberal Arts’ prestigious Plan II Honors program. It didn’t help that his peers blatantly questioned whether he belonged with them at all.
During his sophomore year, Reddick found himself at a crossroads. He could either succumb to self-doubt and quit or find a way to push forward. Fortunately, there were
several people on campus who wouldn’t allow him to go with that first option.
Instead, professors, staff and administrators challenged him to make the campus his own. “I will always be grateful to Brenda Burt, who worked in a program within the Dean of
Students Office that was analogous to what’s now called Gateway Scholars,” Reddick says. “She helped me realize the source of my problem: I wasn’t feeling connected.”
Reddick took her advice and sought opportunities to connect with the campus community. He met with professors after class, joined student groups and spoke at campus events. More than two decades later, he still feels indebted to his campus allies. He continues to pay it forward by reaching out to his students and letting them know that they are not alone in their struggles. As the leader of the campus-wide Student Diversity Initiatives and Diversity Education Initiative, he encourages professors and students to help make the university a more welcome, inclusive place.
“The burden is this secret that you’re really struggling and everyone else is excelling,” says Reddick (B.A. Plan II Honors, ’95; Ed.D., Higher Education, Harvard University, ’07). “I always encourage my students to come to me and just talk. I feel it’s important to let them know that I know exactly what they’re going through because I’ve been there.”