Rocky Top prides itself on being “home sweet home,” but not every student may be able to relate. UT faculty is looking to change that with the Mattering and Belonging Campaign, also known as “Vol is a Verb.”
“Vol is a Verb,” headed by Dean of Students Shea Kidd Houze, seeks to cultivate an inclusive campus environment where mattering and belonging are central to the campus experience.
“The campaign is designed as a collective call to action so that all of us that are a part of the [campus] can ensure that Rocky Top is a place where all students matter and belong,” Kidd Houze said.
The idea for “Vol is a Verb” originated from faculty talks about student success and campus climate. As discussion proceeded, faculty concluded that creating an inclusive campus is a large, collective effort.
“As we thought about the various ways we could engage our community, we continued to come back to this notion that the Volunteer Experience is active and tactile. So in order to make our campus one where everyone belongs, it takes all of us,” Kidd Houze said.
Assistant Provost Matthew Theriot gave the Beacon further background on how the campaign came to be, saying that recent white supremacist and anti-diversity actions played a huge role in shaping the campaign’s goals.
“The events that really drove the foundation for the campaign were more about the anti-Semitic statements painted on the Rock last year, the racial slurs painted on buildings and the appearance of a white supremacist group on campus last year and the year before. Those sorts of events,” Theriot said.
Provost Theriot expressed the campaign’s goal of going beyond merely providing lip-service to diversity events and groups, and instead, opting for active encouragement of inclusion.
A large part of “Vol is a Verb” includes encouraging students to share their personal stories, allowing them to connect their experience with the wider UT community and spreading a message of positivity as students bond over experiences.
“The big thing is to cultivate a campus climate where every student’s story is valued and has significance,” Kidd Houze said. “When we think about a sense of belonging, we really think about the importance of an individual’s story and how that fits into the volunteer experience … When we say mattering, that means, ‘I am in a space that people know has a voice, and my voice matters.’”
Another way “Vol is a Verb” will encourage inclusion is by directing students to inclusive student resources, such as Campus Councils for Diversity and Inclusion, student clinics and the Pride Center.
“There’s a lot of good work happening on campus; there are a number of experts. So when we think specifically about areas around diversity, inclusion and equity, there’s certainly areas and offices,” Kidd Houze said. “We don’t want to reinvent the wheel. There’s a lot of resources that are available.”
The campaign will officially begin on September 12th with Dear World, an event where faculty and students will encourage discussion of prominent campus topics.
But while Dear World will officially kick off Vol is a Verb, it is neither the end nor the beginning of inclusion efforts on campus.
“First year students engaged in conversations regarding mattering and belonging and what ‘Vol is a Verb’ means to them over the course of summer orientation, and these themes were also embedded into Welcome Week,” Dean Kidd Houze said. “Events will continue to emerge across campus as the campaign develops.”
One of these events is Vol Topics, where students and faculty can facilitate discussion on various important campus issues.
Vol is a Verb has lofty goals, but a key aspect of the campaign is the idea that encouraging inclusion is a hefty and collective effort that takes time.
“I think it’s important that we don’t view the campaign as being the ‘solution’ to everything. The campaign is about making a message and carrying it forward, and the ways that will happen are varied and important,” Theriot said.