Fostering a diverse and inclusive environment for everyone is paramount at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.
A newly elevated role – responsible for overseeing inclusive excellence, one of the five Missouri Compacts for Excellence named in the university’s strategic plan – reflects UMSL’s increased commitment in this arena.
On Monday, Chancellor Kristin Sobolik announced that Tanisha Stevens would step into the new position as the first-ever vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion. Stevens will lead strategic diversity and inclusion initiatives to ensure that all students, faculty, staff and community members thrive. Her appointment is effective immediately.
School of Social Work Dean Sharon Johnson and Pierre Laclede Honors College Dean Edward Munn Sanchez co-chaired the committee that unanimously recommended Stevens’ appointment. The committee also included Academic Advisor Harry Harris, PhD student Luimil Negrón, Assistant Provost for Access and Academic Support Natissia Small, Deputy Chief of Police Marisa Smith, Teaching Professor Lynn Staley and Dean and Associate Professor Matthew Taylor.
“I am excited to continue to work with Dr. Stevens as we advance and expand on our support for creating a more diverse, equitable and inclusive environment on campus and in our community,” Sobolik said. “Tanisha has a strong track record of effecting positive change and developing strategic initiatives that have improved lives at UMSL. She’s the right person to lead our efforts in growing the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion aligned with our goal of inclusive excellence and our mission of transforming lives.”
Sobolik noted that Stevens will continue to be an integral member of the leadership cabinet that focuses on university-wide decisions. This expanded position coincides with increased resources allocated to ODEI including the first senior manager of strategic diversity initiatives, Marlo Hode, who helps strategize and provide professional development training, and the addition of the Title IX and Equity Office, including Chief Equity Officer Dana Beteet Daniels and Deputy Coordinator Jessica Swederske.
Stevens comes to the position with 17 years of experience at UMSL, most recently as interim director of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, a position she’s held since November while continuing to hold the position of director of the Office of Academic Integrity simultaneously.
During her time in the interim position, Stevens coordinated the university’s first Virtual Gathering for Racial Unity, which nearly 200 people attended on June 18. She also led the chancellor’s cultural diversity committee; relocated the Title IX and Equity Office to ODEI; cultivated external partnerships; organized the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Observance; and increased the MLK scholarship amount. She also is excited about a new initiative in the fall, the Diversity Alliance, a network of faculty and staff who champion diversity and inclusion within their academic departments or units.
She intends to take that momentum into her new role, especially building upon the experiences of those who attended the Virtual Gathering.
“The information obtained from the virtual gathering has proven extremely valuable as we prepare for continued conversations in order to raise awareness on issues that impact our campus community,” Stevens said. “I hope to demonstrate to the campus community – and outside of the institution – our commitment to fostering a culture where all members have a sense of belonging and the opportunity to thrive.”
As vice chancellor, Stevens plans to use metrics to measure the success of changes and programming, and her plans for the position are aligned with UMSL’s inclusive excellence framework. Some goals include increased professional development and training opportunities, providing annual reports that demonstrate and highlight campus diversity and inclusion efforts as well as enhance collaborative partnerships across campus and in the greater St. Louis community.
She also hopes to centralize the equity-grievance process to ensure consistency in process and procedures, and work with the Office of the Provost and the Center for Teaching and Learning to expand discussions about issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion in the classroom.
After earning her MA in counseling from Saint Louis University, Stevens began her UMSL career assisting the dean of the Graduate School with academic dishonesty cases, rising to coordinator of student rights and responsibilities two years later.
In 2012, after completing her PhD in educational leadership and policy studies from the College of Education, Stevens centralized the procedural process for investigating academic dishonesty cases into a single office. That became the Office of Academic Integrity, and Stevens assumed the role of director in 2013, a position she’s held since.
Her background in counseling has given Stevens a unique approach.
“One of the first concepts we learn is the importance of building trust in relationships. My role has been to create the space to allow for open dialogue. This has been evident in my role in the Office of Academic Integrity. My philosophy has always been that it’s an educational opportunity. There’s a consequence, but students get the opportunity to learn from it, be accountable for their actions and complete their degrees.”
As director, Stevens has been responsible for the adjudication of student academic misconduct and ensuring due process for accused students. The office gave her the opportunity to build collaborative relationships not only on campus but within the University of Missouri System, where she’s investigated equity-based complaints.
She counts those relationships – along with coordinating the university’s first participation in the USC Race and Equity Center’s Equity Institute and developing the procedural process and faculty trainings regarding adjudication of accused students – as notable accomplishments.
She’s taken the time to learn and grow throughout, participating in professional development opportunities such as the UM System’s Social Justice Mediation Training and Social Justice Training Institute Program as well as the Dr. Elson S. Floyd Academic Leadership Institute-Administrative Leadership Development Program.
Stevens has been a member of the Provost’s Council and the CARE Team and also represented the Office of Academic Affairs on a variety of committees across the university.
“I think it is really important to be authentic and transparent and that the work we do is done with intentionality, purpose and integrity.” Stevens said. “We have had a number of discussions across campus and the office is committed to taking action to ensure that our diverse voices are represented and heard. For me, that’s imperative.”