New assistant vice provost’s goal: An inclusive environment

Meet Tamba-Kuii Bailey, UND’s new assistant vice provost for equity & inclusion

Tamba-Kuii Bailey, assistant professor of counseling psychology and community services at UND, is also serving as the assistant vice provost for equity and inclusion. UND archival image.

Tamba-Kuii Bailey, assistant professor of counseling psychology and community service, has been named the assistant vice provost for equity and inclusion, effective Jan. 27 – May 15.

Bailey also served as the co-chair of the UND Task Force on Diversity & Inclusion, which recently released their recommendations.

UND Today sat down with Dr. Bailey to discuss his new role, the importance of Black History Month, and his research.

UND Today: Congratulations on your new appointment. It’s an important role. Can you tell us more about it?

Tamba-Kuii Bailey: It is a part-time role, and I do appreciate being in this position. It is important work. I think it represents a shift in how we start thinking about what diversity looks like on this campus. We are thinking about what it means to be really inclusive. I think it is also an aspirational position. We can not stay where we are. We need to be forward moving. I think this is a great opportunity, and my hope is that this position can really help us grow into becoming a more equitable and inclusive community.

What are some of the things you’re planning to do in your new role?

There are some things connected with the recommendations from the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force. One of the first things is to develop a diversity, equity, and inclusion statement for the University. I think this will help us as an institution to understand the directions in which we want to move. I will continue to work with the other co-chair of the task force, Cara Halgren (vice president for student affairs & diversity), and some of the past members of that task force as well. We have already started meeting to develop what we see as a solid diversity and equity inclusion statement.

Another thing is meeting with the deans of the colleges so I can get a sense of their plans, their ideas and responses to the task force recommendations and how it may fit within their colleges. I think there are some commonalities and some unique differences across colleges. It’s important to get a sense of how they see the recommendations fitting within their college.

I am also working with Cindy Juntunen, associate provost and the dean of education & human development, in examining some existing data at UND. We want to what is effective and going well. Also, we want to know what are some of the barriers or gaps. Looking at some of the historical and current data will help us in gaining this understanding.

That’s a lot to take on.

I do not think this is a static process. My belief that this is ongoing. I think we have to continue to assess and look at where we are. Another part is working with Donna Smith, who is the director of equal opportunity and Title IX. In working with Donna, I am gaining a better understanding of processes when dealing with experiences of discrimination and microaggressions on this campus. I really want to understand to reporting process.

Another important area is thinking about equity as it relates to retention at the University. We have to think in terms of not just recruiting diverse students, but also how do we intentionally retain diverse students. I think we have to have multiple approaches.

UND has often struggled with efforts to become more diverse. How will you address that challenge?

I think at the University, we really have to work hard, knowing there are many barriers that people of color face who come to UND. We have to think about how we make people feel more included and be more inclusive. We have to acknowledge that those barriers exist and work to remove them. We have to recognize that if somebody is not from here, it does not necessarily mean they are in the Air Force or play sports as a person of color. And it does not mean that they got some special scholarship to come to UND, or that the faculty of Color got special accommodation to come here, that they are “less than,” because that’s what that conveys. We have to work at chipping away at some of those issues.

I think that we have to have a collective resolve. One of the recommendations that came out of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force was thinking about a concentrated focus on hires, and even cluster hires. We need to start thinking about how we can hire multiple people at one time, so it’s targeted. In making these targeted, cluster hires, as a university, we need to work hard to make sure those hires feel welcome and included. I think that goes a long way.

We’re celebrating Black History Month right now. Why is that important?

I think it is very important. John Henrik Clarke was a black historian who said that every group of people will use history to locate themselves on the map of human geography. What he was really saying is that we will not understand who we are without knowing our historical past and our historical present. That is very important for me.

It can often be easy to think that contributions from people of African descent never existed. I like the movie Hidden Figures.  It talks about three [African American] women who worked at NASA. These women and their contributions were easily forgotten. I think that Carter G. Woodson and his attempt to develop Black History Month was his idea of acknowledging, “How do we not lose who we are?” How do we make sure that we remember that we had and still do have a significant history and contribution to society? I think those things are really important.

Often, when I give a talk during Black History Month, the question comes up, and it starts with, “Well, Black people were slaves.” And I say that Black people were enslaved, we were not slaves. Saying that Black were only slaves seems to minimize the history and the contributions of Black people. So, it important to make sure we recognize that Black people have value and humanity. Because if we start saying that somebody was just a slave, or that somebody has no contribution, I think it is easy, then, to negate their humanity.

My hope with Black History Month, especially when I talk to my children about it, is that they see that they have value, that they have substance, and that they can make a contribution. Those things represent their humanity. And that is their compass.

You’re planning to continue teaching and research. Tell us about your work.

For me, it is really important. Race does not cause mental health disparities. It is the reactions that people have to race. It is the racism, it is the discrimination. Race becomes what I call the proxy to understanding experiences of racism. So, the woman who said the statement to me at Target, my race was the proxy. But what was behind that? This is, “You’re not from here, right?” That’s a response to who I am. It’s not just me being black in the store. It’s the feeling she had towards me.

When I start thinking about racial oppression, and the internalization of racial oppression, I want to understand what happens when a person experiences racial discrimination and ultimately internalizes it. Will they person start thinking themselves and other Black people in the same way as people who engage in racist behaviors. If I start to think, “I do not belong here, I do not have value?” What happens if I start to internalize that message? Does that impact my mental health? Does that impact my physical health? Does that impact my self-esteem? I think it is important to understand. We have a lot of indicators that experiences of racism for people of color are detrimental to their physical and mental health.

[Some colleagues and I] conducted a qualitative study where we explored adolescent Black males understand of their unique experiences of racism. We started out thinking it was happening in the school. But then as we start having this conversation, they were talking about these incidences of racism, discrimination in school and out of school. It starts to impact them in all the settings. What we were finding is that it was not just school-focused.

My colleagues and I are trying to figure out, if these things are causing distress, what can relieve that distress? That’s the part that’s exciting to me. We heard these young men say they need more counselors who really believe them when they say they have experienced racism, not somebody saying “No, you misread it and they did not really mean it that way.” I heard them also say that they would appreciate a program where they can learn to deal with some racism. That part of my research becomes the exciting piece. We are trying to figure out, even if somebody is exposed to racism, how can we work with them so they do not internalize all this stuff.

I want to figure out how can I help Black people build a kind of invisible armament. That’s my end goal. I want to develop interventions, so when Black people experience racism, they do not internalize it as a negative thought about themselves?

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I really enjoy UND. I enjoy the opportunity to meet very different people. I’ve had the opportunity to interact with interesting people across disciplines. The thing I appreciate about UND is that it’s a large enough institution, but still small enough where we can talk to different people. You can have a relationship with a parent or with the president of the University. I am co-advising the Black Student Association, and I like to meet with students in that way. We have the Writers Conference, being able to interact with people in that way.

I’m also excited about the directions that that we can go, and I think the potential that we have is really exciting.

I really appreciate being here at this time, knowing that I can contribute and be a part of the process.