UTPB official adds new role

After three years with University of Texas Permian Basin Tanya Lowery has another hat to wear.

Having been the chief compliance officer since 2018, interim chief diversity officer has been added to her sphere.

With respect to the diversity part, Lowery’s role will be looking at diversity and inclusion efforts institution-wide and seeing where UTPB can continue to build its diversity and inclusion efforts, or tweak them as needed.

“… We want to continue to continue to infuse diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice throughout UTPB. … We want to continue to make sure that UTPB remains a welcoming and inclusive environment and that folks understand the importance of being culturally aware, culturally sensitive, but also understanding you know how that kind of plays into the global world,” Lowery said.

“… As you know, we are educating our students to go out and be those change agents so we want them to be aware and have the best skills possible. But in addition to that, we also want to make sure that our employees as well as our external stakeholders understand the value that we have with relation to diversity and inclusion,” she added.

Asked what happens if someone doesn’t say the right thing or comply, she said it is a two-pronged answer.

“… On the official side, if there is an allegation related to … discrimination or harassment of a protected category, obviously we have some mechanisms in place to address that. There would be an investigation, of course, looking into those matters and then remedying that situation. We have to do that, as you know, because we receive federal funds. Federal funds fall underneath that Title VI, a little caveat this is any organization or entity that receives any dime of federal funding, you must ensure that you have a work environment, academic environment that is free from any type of discrimination and harassment,” Lowery said.

She said that is the official side.

“So, let’s say that someone maybe makes an off- color joke, and we get apprised of that situation. So what would happen is we would work with our partners in HR to find out exactly, as well as the people that were involved to find out exactly what happened, because obviously you have to be a neutral fact finder. But then you would use that opportunity to address that in an educational manner. Sometimes folks just don’t know. So, you know, you can help them understand and bridge that gap, and in other entities sometimes some people are just going to do what they want to do, and in that matter, we would have to have a conversation about what is acceptable and appropriate,” Lowery said.

“If that egregious behavior continues, then obviously we have that conversation. It wouldn’t be me, but it’d be HR having that conversation about I don’t know if this is the environment for you, so let’s talk about that. But we try not to be punitive because, again, what we want is an environment where everyone again feels welcome and included. People are going to make mistakes. We understand that. But part of the way that we help mitigate that is we offer opportunities for training. We offer opportunities for folks to come in and have that conversation. And we really try to help people understand. This is probably why you don’t want to say things like that. This is how this could be offensive to someone, but in addition to that, this is how we can … move forward together.”

This includes social media posts.

Referring to protected classes, Lowery said examples are veterans, ability status and gender.

Under Title VII and Title IX, it’s pregnancy, “… anything related to those particular federally protected categories,” she said. She added that pregnant and parenting students are covered.

“… Most people don’t know that. But what we want to do is ensure that our folks have all the resources needed to be successful in their academic pursuits. But in general, … Title IX … makes sure that … there’s no gender discrimination in our academic environment. But in addition to that, if there happens to be an issue related to a sexual assault … we want to ensure that we have the appropriate measures and resources in place,” Lowery said.

Training for staff is online and in person. Departments contact her department and request training on implicit bias, for example.

“And so per their request, we can do an in-person training, or if it’s easier to do it online, we can instruct that and put it underneath our LMS, which is Canvas, our learning management system,” Lowery said.

She added that UTPB also partners with other UT schools, and if they’ve got a canned program or training, UTPB can work with them to conduct the training.

“… It really depends on what the department needs,” she said.

As for diversity and what it means, that definition is still being worked on because the university wants everybody to have buy-in.

“…. While we certainly could come up with a static definition of what diversity is,” she said, but everybody has different backgrounds and experiences.

“… But we come together under one unit to help ensure our mission is met. At the same time, what we want to do is be able to say, this is what UTPB definition of diversity is so we’re in the process of beginning those conversations with all of our stakeholders so that we can take in that feedback and then be able to craft the definition that’s tied specifically to UT Permian Basin,” Lowery said.

The definition of inclusion is also being worked on.

Lowery said UTPB President Sandra Woodley spearheaded the diversity and inclusion initiative. Last year, the university implemented what was then known as the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee.

Lowery and Becky Spurlock, vice president of Student Affairs and Leadership, co-chaired it. They worked with faculty, staff and students to look at what they could continue to do on the diversity and inclusion front.

“And then from there, what has been really a wonderful building upon that DEI committee was Dr. Woodley, in consultation with her colleagues, basically said I think we want to implement that interim chief diversity officer position, put it within a scope of an individual, and then let them continue that that year of planning,” Lowery said.

“So we’re going into the official year of planning. The DEI committee lasted for a year, and it’s still in effect. That name has been changed to the President’s Diversity Council, and so they will work closely with me to kind of move our DEI efforts forward,” she added.

The President’s Diversity Council will serve in an advisory capacity to Woodley, but also help Lowery in her new position.

“We want folks to understand that you’re going to see people that are from different backgrounds and experiences and so you want to be able to ensure that they have a good experience. Not everybody’s going to be a best friend; we already know that, but you need to know how to professionally interact with one another, because these are folks that you’re going to get out into the workforce and work with,” Lowery said.
Lowery said she was recruited from Oklahoma State University, where she served as the Title IX coordinator/deputy equal opportunity officer.

Lowery earned a bachelor’s degree in politics from Marymount College of Tarrytown, N.Y., now called Marymount College of Fordham.

She earned a master’s degree in communication from Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, N.M., and her doctorate in higher education administration from UT Austin.

Diversity and inclusion has been a passion of Lowery’s since she entered the workforce.

“My dissertation focused in on how the institutions of education make diversity and inclusion really a specific value, and so through all of my positions I’ve given trainings on diversity (and) inclusion (and) worked with different committees … But when Dr. Woodley asked me to serve as a diversity officer it was like was like oh my gosh, really? Yay! But really it’s just a culmination of a lot of hard work over the years … It’s a fantastic opportunity and I really do look forward to working with my colleagues on campus, the external community, and looking to see how much better that UTPB can continue to grow and become,” Lowery said.

President Woodley is thrilled to have Lowery in her new role.

“Dr. Lowery comes to this position with a great deal of experience. She is passionate about this work and a true leader on campus. One of her great strengths is helping people feel comfortable talking about uncomfortable things. Our university is diverse with faculty, staff, and students who come from different backgrounds, with different ideologies, and varied life-experiences. We have much to learn from each other, and Tanya facilitates this work in a way that is safe and constructive,” Woodley said in an email.