Student engagement is pivotal in advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) issues on college campuses, shaping a more inclusive and equitable learning environment for all. Throughout her career, Eunice Tarver, Vice President of Student Success & Equity at Tulsa Community College, has demonstrated a profound commitment to equity beyond the classroom to reach all aspects of the college community.
Charles Sin, Co-Host of The Interview, sat down with Eunice to discuss issues ranging from personalized support services and cultural competency to data-driven decision-making and fostering equity in student success.
I am the Vice President for Student Success and Equity at Tulsa Community College. Tulsa is a multi-campus commuter college that serves over 20,000 students, about 70% of whom are part-time. We offer around 120 associate degrees and certificates. Our student body is predominantly female, with an average age of 24, and 47% of our students come from racially minoritized groups.
It all comes down to my love for student success. I was brought up learning that “It takes a village”, — and here at TCC, in student affairs, we are that village. For thousands of students from all aspects of life, we personalize support services to help them accomplish their goals here. It’s a blessing to be able to wake up every morning and help to foster diversity, embody inclusion, and work to bring about transformational change.
We’re fortunate to have an exceptional student community with over 20 multicultural student groups. These groups are all led by students, and they do brilliant work. For example, our Pride Group provides a safe forum for self-expression and identity, and the African American Student Association promotes awareness of and engagement in Black culture and history. Our Silent Friends Club supports those in the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing communities and provides opportunities for fellowship, learning, and engagement. One of our new initiatives is a new micro-credential aimed at fostering a culture of belonging. Staff, students, and faculty can come together in a single cohort to learn together — it’s still in the planning stages, but I’m pumped up about it. We’re expecting to have that in place by September.
I’ve had the opportunity to be the assistant VP of DEI here at the College, and I helped to develop our first dedicated DEI Office. From there, I transitioned into the role of VP for Student Success. Here at the institution, we’re highly data-driven. We believe that data tells the stories of our students, so we rely on qualitative data as well as quantitative research to drive our decisions. If you’re willing to share information, it’s so much easier to get people to buy in. Equity is about finding a way to support the individuals who make up a community. As an open-access institution, we have a responsibility to identify and remove any barriers we can find. Data helps us to do that — in our course design, our syllabus, our support services, and more. It is instrumental in delivering a quality, equitable, and affordable learning experience for students.
Equity is about finding a way to support the individuals who make up a community. As an open-access institution, we have a responsibility to identify and remove any barriers we can find
We make it inescapable: it needs to be at the heart of how we operate as an institution. Our college, our services, and our processes need to be designed to support students and give them what they need. It’s not about making a single diversity class mandatory for all students: we need to take a broader view across our curriculum, working with our faculty to provide opportunities and offer innovation grants. If we want to grow equity at scale across the college, we need to empower the people working on the front line. We want to foster a vibrant institutional culture to help our students thrive and provide them with the support they need to be successful.
We have four institutional learning outcomes which we expect of all our graduates: communication, critical thinking, personal responsibility, and social responsibility. Students should be able to examine their ethics and traditions in relation to others so they can have respectful interactions with their peers. As things become more polarised, you must remind students that they are part of a larger citizenry, all working together to make a better community.
Like many organizations, the pandemic changed what engagement looks like across our campuses. We’ve looked closely at the design of our facilities and architecture to better engage students. Before the pandemic, we’d started to build Student Success Centers, but when the pandemic hit, we had to rethink things. We knew not all of our students would be returning to campus, so we had to think about how to accommodate remote and virtual experiences. We see the most engagement with the specific programs which meet students’ needs. For example, we have an initiative called Food on the Move - once a month, they bring food trucks up to campus to connect our faculty and staff with the farming community. We’re in the process of reimagining what student life looks like — some of our traditional programs aren’t as popular as they used to be, and many students have become accustomed to doing things online. We know that engagement leads to greater student success, so we’re doing everything we can to try and get through.
Ask questions. You need to push students to be more curious. When you ask meaningful questions, you learn more about your students and yourself.