Diverse student advocacy

Dr. Tawanda Owens has been at the University of Utah for just under a year as the executive director for diverse student advocacy, a new position at the university. The position is meant to advocate for students and programs served by the Office for Equity and Diversity.

“I work with diverse students to ensure their voices are heard throughout campus, that their experiences are validated and resources are provided to them when and as needed,” Owens said. “My goal is to be the link to central administration and to provide what’s needed for [these] students to reach their ideal success.”

For the past three years, Owens’ worked at the University of Colorado Boulder as an associate director for training and programming, director of the Cultural Unity and Engagement Center and a special projects assistant to the associate vice president. With a strong passion for student success, especially those of historically marginalized populations, she works diligently to ensure students reach their fullest potential.

Owens is a former college student-athlete and worked in secondary education for more than eight years, as well as over seven years in higher education encouraging students’ success and enhancing equity, diversity and inclusion.

“It is great to see this position as a realized outcome of student collaboration with faculty and staff across campus,” said Portia Saulabiu, retention coordinator for the Center for Ethnic Student Affairs. “This position is greatly needed and will remind us to strive for practices that provide space for students of color to thrive at this institution.”

Ariel Flores Mena, co-chair of M.E.ch.A. (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán), said there is a need for more support for marginalized students on campus and for a direct voice to administrators. She’s hopeful this position will help students be more recognized and will lead toward real change on campus.

One of the many projects Owens has diligently been working on with the Office for Equity and Diversity is a campus-wide bias and racist incident protocol and app. The protocol and app, will launch this year, making reporting of racial incidents easier, the ability to send photos (if needed), help activate levels of university response based on the incident and give the administration more information about how to respond.

“I saw a need and wanted to be part of solving this problem,” said Owens. “I would like to see a more visible response to racial incidents across campus. I want our impacted students to see the university speaking back to them, not just through statements, but with intentional conversations, A-frame messages reaffirming who we are as well as increased security measures in specific areas being targeted. There is great momentum and positive changes happening at the U and I am grateful I get to work here—with, for and through all students.”