Mobile Back to Top Link
Home / President's column  / Opportunity For Everyone

Opportunity For Everyone

a woman in hiking gear holds a pair of hiking poles. She is sitting on a rock and smiling. She is surrounded by green trees with sunlight filtering through.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

When I was first hired as an assistant professor in the Department of Animal, Dairy, and Veterinary Sciences at Utah State University in 1990, women held just nine senior faculty positions on campus.  

Now, in 2021, the percentage of full professors at Utah State who are women has grown to about 30 percent—not where we need to be, but better than we have ever been. This is the result of decades of work by a plethora of people to establish a climate of support for the ascendance of women into senior faculty and leadership positions. And I know that Utah State is better for it.  

Over the years, there has been an effort to recruit student, staff, and faculty populations that mirror the state’s growing diversity. But it is not enough to say we want diversity on our campuses – we must create an inclusive environment that reflects and supports that intention. Otherwise, our efforts will be in name only and I am not interested in just checking a box on diversity.  

That is why I supported the creation of the Latinx Cultural Center at USU and allotted a physical location for it. That is why I chose Black Lives Matter as the theme for the university’s 2020 Inclusive Excellence Symposium. That is also why I am pleased Utah State is collaborating with the nonprofit Encircle to provide the space and resources that LGBTQIA+ local youth and Utah State students need to feel safe and loved. And that is why the university is hiring its first vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion, a cabinet-level position that can guide us in this initiative through outreach, oversight, and education. Because we need to ensure Utah State is a place where all people feel they belong and that they can thrive.  

This summer, we released the findings from our 2019 campus climate survey—an effort slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic—in which we found that students of color, students who identify as LGBTQIA+, and international students are less likely to report feeling safe on campus, in their classrooms, and in the community, and are less likely to feel a sense of belonging at Utah State. Perhaps you wonder why that matters. For me, it boils down to simple basics: You cannot live up to your academic and personal potential if you are worried about your safety. If you do not feel welcome in your classes or meetings, you may not speak up and share your ideas and perspectives. And if you do not participate, then we all lose.  

I have never been a person to shy away from difficult conversations. The university needs to be a place where we can talk about big issues like racism and discrimination. Because if not here, where? 

Our mission as a land-grant institution under the 1862 Morrill Land-Grant Act is to expand postsecondary opportunities to individuals typically excluded from higher education. I want to ensure we are living up to our founding principles today.  

As I studied the idea of hiring an officer to oversee diversity, equity, and inclusion at Utah State, I came to understand that diversity is not about something that we give our students to broaden their perspectives. Diversity is about creating opportunities for people to succeed in life. An institution like Utah State cannot have diversity if people do not feel that they belong. I’ve come to believe that inclusion is more than giving someone access to the same spaces you visit and reside in. Inclusion is about people feeling valued in those spaces and feeling safe to be who they are, not just free from physical assault but also free from emotional abuse.  

I know my ideas and opinions should not be dismissed because I am a woman. Instead, my belonging at USU should depend on what I contribute, not who I am. My hope is that over time, everyone who comes to Utah State to study, work and participate will feel just as at home as I do. 

By Noelle E. Cockett, USU President

Review overview