During his time as an undergraduate at Connecticut College, Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer of the University of Connecticut Dr. Franklin Tuitt recalls a meeting with all the Black students at his institution—he was one of only 10 Black men at the college and one of three to graduate in the class of ’87.
“I remember all 10 of us being in a room. We were all talking about wanting to leave Conn[ecticut College] because of some of our isolating experiences, and the conversation quickly turned to, ‘We can go somewhere else, but it’s going to be the same situation, so why not get involved as leaders?’” Tuitt said.
He said this conversation sparked a lifetime’s worth of work in activism, education and diversity that eventually led him to his current role at the UConn Office for Diversity and Inclusion this past July.
Tuitt, reflecting on his first semester at UConn in an interview with The Daily Campus, said he feels impassioned by the community’s high level of student involvement and hopes to see the university expand its diversity efforts to build an inclusive learning environment for all.
“When I took on a similar role like this eight years ago at the University of Denver, I felt like I had to seek out people to work with and collaborate, and my experience at UConn has been the exact opposite. There’s been a long line of folks waiting to gain access to our office, and that’s been really encouraging,” Tuitt said.
Tuitt entered UConn amidst a summer of protest, action and conversation surrounding systemic racial injustice in our nation. Students took to the streets at Black Lives Matter rallies and stood at the Connecticut capitol building calling for the university to defund the UConn police department. Tuitt said that the events of the summer emphasized the need to address racially charged events that occur beyond the university and better support student concerns.
“It absolutely shaped the transition into this role in recognizing that there would be a need to pay greater attention to what is happening not only across the nation but around the world,” Tuitt said. “It’s been an interesting time to be engaged in diversity, inclusion and equity work. […] I think it definitely elevated a sense of urgency.”
Tuitt said the Office for Diversity and Inclusion aims to create thought-provoking programs contextualized by the events that occur within the university, the country and the world.
“Those programs were attempting to provide a space for folks to share some of their experiences, concerns and hopes for a more inclusive, affirming and equitable institution,” Tuitt said.
UConn has an unfortunate history with bias-related incidents on campus. Last year, students shouted racial slurs outside Charter Oaks Apartments, and in September, someone from outside the UConn community defaced the BLM Spirit Rock. This month, President Katsouleas received criticism for the handling of anti-Semitic incidents at a South Campus residence hall.
Tuitt said that UConn must improve its communication between university offices and the student body when addressing acts of hate. Students can access bias report forms to disclose an incident or use the Campus Bias Communications page for information regarding recent bias-related events.
Tuitt said that he is enthusiastic about the number of people who partnered with the Office for Diversity and Inclusion programs and provided input on university-wide initiatives. He said he also enjoys connecting with student leaders through the President’s Council on Race and Diversity, undergraduate and graduate student governments and students within the Office for Diversity and Inclusion.
Tuitt said he hopes students will continue to address the university with their concerns, remain engaged and continue their involvement with diversity, equity and inclusion work.