New diversity official encouraged by young leaders’ openness

Twelve leaders of student organizations met yesterday for a frank conversation with the university’s newly selected top diversity official.

Judy “J.J.” Jackson of Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., was selected in late January and will begin as the vice president for institutional diversity on July 1. Jackson made an early visit to UK yesterday to meet with different groups on campus and learn about diversity efforts.

Yesterday afternoon, the 12 assembled leaders leveled with her. When Jackson asked how most Student Government officers get elected, several students immediately said “Greek” and others nodded their heads in response.

“It’s often said if you get the GPAC (Greek Political Action Committee endorsement), you’ll get the election,” integrated strategic communications senior James Davidson said of spring SG elections. Davidson is also the first-vice president of UK’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Patrick Keal, president of the Interfraternity Council, agreed, saying leadership roles are often passed down from one fraternity or sorority member to another, though not out of ill-will toward other students on campus.

“If you’re a Greek and the guy who’s in the office in front of you is a Greek, that’s the way to get the position, to get to know them,” he said. “It’s not an intentional cycle.”

As students talked about their experience with diversity at UK, Jackson took notes and gave her reactions. She said organizations should work to develop a student leadership program and that if the Greeks have a leadership package that is working, it could be applied to the whole student body.

Coordinating diversity efforts among students, faculty, staff and administrators will be part of Jackson’s job when she starts in July. She will also advise the president and the provost on how university decisions will affect UK’s diversity goals.

Yesterday, the 12 students talked about what they would like to see on campus in the future and addressed existing diversity problems at UK. One subject discussed was an e-mail forwarded by SG President Nick Phelps to an SG listserv last month that falsely described presidential hopeful Barack Obama as a Muslim and spoke negatively of Islam.

When one student brought it up without mentioning Phelps’ name while the SG president sat at the meeting, Jackson said the leaders had to be honest with each other.

“You need to put stuff on the table and say what you mean,” she said.

At the end, Jackson said she found the meeting to be successful and encouraged the group to continue meeting despite busy schedules.

After the students left, Jackson said she has been surprised by how open and willing to work the students she has met have been. In her visit to campus, she has detected good spirit and goodwill, she said.

“I think it’s going to be a good move for me,” Jackson said.