Division of Diversity and Community Engagement
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Change Starts Here: You Belong Here

Change Starts Here: You Belong Here

Letter from Vice President Smith

Dear UT Community,

VP LaToya SmithI am excited to roll out the strategic direction of the university’s Plan for an Equitable and Inclusive Campus. As a long-time member of our campus community, I know that the diversity of people, ideas and scholarship on our campus is an essential part of what makes UT Austin one of the best universities in the nation and world. As one of the largest and most diverse college campuses in the country, we have the opportunity to become the world’s highest-impact public university through our new strategic plan—Change Starts Here: UT’s Strategic Plan to Increase Impact. President Hartzell’s commitment to inclusion and equity informs each pillar of the strategic plan. And as a critical component of this work, he has asked me to lead the campus-wide effort to update and reinvigorate the university’s strategic planning around equity and inclusion on campus.

Over the past five years since the launch of the 2017 University Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan, we have made great strides to weave diversity into the core mission of the university and to include students, faculty and staff with diverse backgrounds, thoughts and ideas. UT Austin has recently been designated both a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) and Asian American, Native American, and Pacific Islander Serving Institution (AANAPISI). Every year over 20% of the incoming freshmen on our campus are first-generation students. And through unique university initiatives, such as the University Leadership Network, graduation rates for all our students have increased by over 10%.  Each college, school and unit has a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) officer and an active DEI website to highlight the importance of this university-wide priority to faculty, staff and students. Our Executive Vice President and Provost’s office launched the Strategic Plan for Faculty Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity in 2021 to attract and retain diverse faculty, which remains a key part of our broader DEI plan, and to establish an equitable and inclusive climate and support innovative and diverse scholarship, teaching and service.

Our university and our campus community have created and accomplished so much; however, we also recognize that we have much more work to do.  Our new Plan for an Equitable and Inclusive Campus presents a three-year roadmap for equity, inclusion and belonging at UT Austin. We know that this will be a journey; and we also know that we can make real, immediate progress if we work together and focus our collective resources on the same priorities. Recruiting, attracting and retaining a culturally diverse faculty, staff and student body on campus is at the core of our plan. We need a wide range of identities, perspectives and experiences in our classrooms, on our campus and in our leadership. That means ensuring equity of access and experience for undergraduates, graduate students, staff and faculty who come from all around the globe. We also recognize that our campus must actively strive to be a place that cultivates and nurtures spaces of community, inclusion and belonging.  Students, staff and faculty also need to feel empowered to participate in the intellectual and social fabric of our campus, a place where our ideas and opinions may be challenged, but our values, experiences and identities will be respected.

What we are sharing today is not the end of our work. Our aspiration and five pillars for the strategic direction were born from the data and insights we gathered. We will follow with the second part of the plan, the operational aspects, in the fall, which will move this aspiration into action by outlining specific initiatives, owners, and how we will track our success. And in the weeks, months and years to come, the university will demonstrate our commitment to equity on campus through allocated resources, ongoing assessment and transparent communication. Everyone at UT Austin knows our slogan: “What starts here changes the world.” I believe that the work we do here on campus touches lives across the city of Austin, the state of Texas and all over the globe. And so I ask you to join us as we enact this plan. Together, we can achieve our goals.

Dr. LaToya Smith
Vice President, Division of Diversity and Community Engagement