College of Liberal Arts appoints inaugural diversity director

Laura Morales

The College of Liberal Arts, UT’s second largest college, created a new position this semester as a mediator for faculty and staff and to promote diverse recruitment.

COLA dean Ann Huff Stevens appointed Monique Pikus as the inaugural director of diversity and organizational climate, who will also serve as the college’s Title IX and Office for Inclusion and Equity liaison. Pikus is responsible for communicating the best practices for diverse faculty recruitment and providing consultation to faculty search committees.

Stevens said they needed a mediator to coordinate all the diversity efforts for the college’s more than 500 tenure-track faculty and 10,000 students.

“This position was needed to help us better track and address diversity and climate issues across such a large organization,” Stevens said. “Monique is uniquely qualified to help our college continue to build a more equitable working and learning environment and aid our efforts to retain and recruit diverse faculty and student cohorts.”

As Title IX liaison, Pikus said she will be keeping track of ongoing investigations and making recommendations to the dean based on patterns of behavior she sees. She said she is currently meeting with the Liberal Arts Council and conducting focus groups and surveys of faculty and students to gather information about the college’s concerns. She said she is open to concerns, suggestions and requests for conflict resolution from the liberal arts community about issues of diversity. 

“I don’t believe (in) going into a position and assuming that I know where the work needs to be done,” Pikus said. “I want to take the time to listen to the members of the community.” 

Pikus has also been meeting with faculty to discuss issues they have seen and is coordinating the different departments in their approaches to promoting diversity. David Schnyer, professor and chair of the psychology department, said he has already worked with Pikus to promote diverse research and faculty recruitment. Schnyer was appointed to chair this semester and has established a departmental diversity committee, which has spoken with Pikus about recruitment efforts.

“We definitely need to increase our hiring among minorities, and part of that is to make sure they are treated fairly when it comes to promotion, tenure, salaries and evaluations,” Schnyer said.

For the past two years, Pikus was a lecturer and the associate director of the Liberal Arts Honors Program. She has done academic research over educational and professional inequities and said she not only wants to increase diversity but increase equality in experience and opportunities.

“Its not just about the numbers,” Pikus said. “It’s about the inclusions and making sure everyone feels like they belong.”

Pikus said she is familiar with the feeling of exclusion as a woman of color. She said she remembers feeling excluded while working toward her undergraduate degree at Duke University when peers and mentors would ask her, “Why are you here?” 

“That was the first time when I felt like I didn’t belong,” Pikus said. “It stuck with me. I asked myself, ‘Why are you stopping me? I am a student just like you. I am not doing anything suspicious.’ I don’t want our students to have that feeling, and if they do, I want them to feel comfortable to come to me so we can make sure it doesn’t happen again.”