A Welcoming Place for All

Althea Murphy-Price

Althea Murphy-Price

When Althea Murphy-Price, an associate professor of art, came to UT in 2010, colleagues – including minority faculty from other departments — reached out to her and made her feel welcome.

“Those are still the relationships I value most,” she said.

As a Diversity Faculty Fellow for the College of Arts and Sciences, Murphy-Price hopes she can play a role in encouraging diverse students and faculty to come to UT — and want to stay.

“Starting a new job at a new school can be difficult enough without the added effort of finding those you identify with. Drawing upon my own experience, we can help take the guesswork out of finding community and help to ensure that both students and faculty receive the mentorship they need to guide them through their university experience.”

The college began recruiting its first group of Diversity Faculty Fellows last fall. Tenure-track faculty, especially those with connections to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), were encouraged to apply.

Kandace Hollenbach

Kandace Hollenbach

Murphy-Price and Kandace Hollenbach, an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology, were chosen as the college’s first two Diversity Faculty Fellows. They began work in January.

We would like to have two more fellows — one in each division of the college: arts, humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences,” said Angie Batey, associate dean of diversity and inclusion.

Batey and Todd Moore, associate dean for graduate studies, are working closely with the Diversity Faculty Fellows, who are compensated for their work with a stipend, funding for travel and programming associated with the position, and a course release.

Murphy-Price and Hollenbach “are now visiting departments in their divisions and learning about their diversity efforts,” Moore said. They meet each month to share information and map out next steps.

The goals are for the Diversity Faculty Fellows to help departments complete their diversity plans, assist in establishing peer mentoring groups for diverse graduate students, and work with departments to forge relationships with HBCUs to increase the number of diverse applicants who are admitted to their graduate programs.

Moore said about 32 percent of the graduate applicants to the college were diverse students; about 27 percent of the college’s current graduate students are diverse. These numbers have been relatively stable for the past couple of years, and the college wants to see them rise.

“Research suggests that diversity in a group leads to better idea generation, problem solving, and the ability to critically evaluate issues from different perspectives,” Moore said. “Having more diversity in the room tends to produce better results.”

Batey said retention of diverse faculty and staff is equally important.

“We know the department climate is key for job satisfaction and good productivity from our faculty, staff, and students,” Batey said.

Hollenbach, an archaeologist who specializes in paleoethnobotany — the study of ancient plant remains — came to UT in 2005 after completing her bachelor’s degree at Washington University in St. Louis and her doctorate from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She started as a research faculty member and became a tenure-track faculty member in 2015. She has been serving on her department’s diversity action plan committee, so applying to be a Diversity Faculty Fellow was a logical extension.

“I’ve seen a number of our diverse faculty leave over the last couple of years, and I’m concerned about that,” she said. “We need to keep our amazing faculty and staff and students. It’s hard to attract or recruit faculty and students if we don’t have a diverse body already. We just want a welcoming environment all the way across. Perhaps I represent that large group of white faculty who want to do something … but don’t know what to do.”

For Murphy-Price, whose artwork often incorporates hair and makes a statement about the personal and cultural history of hair, applying to be a Diversity Faculty Fellow was a given.

“Overall, I felt like the position had my name on it,” she said.

Murphy-Price, who earned her bachelor’s degree from Spelman College, an HBCU in Atlanta, before completing her master’s degree in printmaking and painting from Purdue University and her Master of Fine Arts at Temple University, said she’s very interested in trying to establish a collaborative relationship between UT and two of Tennessee’s HBCUs, Fisk University and Tennessee State University.

She’s also excited to help expand peer mentoring efforts.

“As a minority faculty member, it’s hard not to understand the fundamental importance of these efforts and the impact they have on one’s campus experience or work environment,” Murphy-Price said. “Being a minority can be stressful and alienating which is incongruous with the goals of our institution to build community, enjoy cultural and scholarly exchange, and work collaboratively. This means diversity efforts are not only important but rather essential to fulfilling a basic right and goal of the university experience.”

-By Amy Blakely