When S. Kent Butler, UCF’s interim chief Equity, Inclusion and Diversity officer, began his career in higher education more than 30 years ago he didn’t plan to go into counseling, but soon found himself providing guidance for students and campus at large.
“There is a very strong sense of community at UCF. Many people feel this is a great environment to be in, but I want that to be a reality for all people.”
Working as the assistant director of the University of Connecticut’s H. Fred Simons African American Cultural Center, he provided students with services and support while creating activities for the entire campus to learn about the history and importance of black culture.
“My role there was to work with students, especially first-generation students, providing a needed a space for them to occupy while they were on a predominately white campus,” says Butler, who was recently elected the president of the American Counseling Association. “The cultural center served as a home away from home for the students as well as an educational resource for the campus at large.”
Through the years, he’s changed schools and positions, but he says his mission to help college campuses fulfill their purpose has remained the same: “Be an open and inclusive place for people to expand their own knowledge base and to be able to navigate life within our global society, while finding one’s own way of positively contributing to it.”
Here he shares how he’s helping UCF become a more welcoming campus for everyone.
You’ve been teaching counselor education courses at UCF since 2007. How has your position as a professor informed what you do now?
The work I’ve done as a professor has been along the lines of multicultural counseling, and I was lucky enough to be part of a team in 2015 that helped create competencies for the counseling profession from a multicultural perspective. That along with my teaching — in terms of course work and personal edification — helped me evolve into a social justice advocate. In 2017-18, I completed a faculty fellowship through the provost’s office that looked at the needs of marginalized faculty and how to embrace them.
What are some of your responsibilities as interim chief Equity, Inclusion and Diversity Officer?
I am a senior leader on the president’s leadership team and I serve on several committees. I also oversee the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, which is dedicated to bringing to the university campus diversity related resources, leadership and counsel to people across the campus.
Part of my role here is to educate the campus about diversity and inclusion issues and in some regards be the person who can be a voice of inclusivity. My role is to make sure people recognize — in order for us to claim we are a diverse university — that we are open to all individuals.
What are some of your proudest accomplishments in your current role so far? We’ve created the Leadership Council for Equity, Inclusivity and Diversity, which is made up of 20 individuals across the UCF community that champion social justice and are teaming up to improve the quality of resources provided by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. We have folks from the colleges of medicine, business, engineering and various faculty groups that serve Latinxs, African Americans and the LGBTQ+ communities. We also have Student Government representatives and a graduate student who represents student perspectives.
The monthlong online survey that opens Feb. 24 is intended to capture an accurate sense of students’ as well as faculty and staff members’ feelings about UCF.
Another major accomplishment is the culture and climate survey that we will be launching on Feb. 24. This is a monthlong online survey intended to capture an accurate sense of students’ as well as faculty and staff members’ feelings about UCF. It’ll ask questions that cover areas such as veteran and disability services, and if students are getting the content they want out of courses. It’ll also gauge how people feel about the offices and departments they work in, such as UCFPD.
Students, faculty and staff should check their emails before Feb. 24 for more information.
Why is it important that every student, staff, faculty member and campus administrator take the survey?
The very last time a survey of this magnitude was done like this on this campus was around 1999. We’ve conducted surveys for specific student and faculty segments or programs over the past 20 years, but not one of this depth.
Not taking the survey is your right, but what you’re doing is not allowing your voice to be heard. This is not a survey that is set up to get a particular result. We have 80,000 people associated with this university, so we have no idea what the outcome is. That makes it extremely important that everyone responds so we can have the proper insight to inform UCF’s administration of what things we can improve upon to better serve everyone on campus.
What is the plan of action after the survey is completed on March 24?
After the survey is completed, we will use the results to create a campus-wide strategic plan that aligns with the mission of UCF to embrace diversity and inclusion.
What are some changes happening in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion?
ODI, which is located in the Barbara Ying Center, is currently creating a more welcoming environment, where people can come in and use the space for more than just meetings or workshops but also as a place to commune and feel a sense of belonging. To increase foot traffic here, we’re looking to open up the space for UCF employees and students to come in and relax. We would like to host events, such as game days, brown bag luncheons and a monthly book club. A quiet space for students to study or in their down time watch something from one of their streaming sources. Presently students are able to come to ODI for services related to mentorship and other support programs, but we also want to become a drop-in center and be known as a space for meaningful dialogue.
What do you think UCF will accomplish in the next five to 10 years?
Our goal is to be that university other universities model themselves after. We want to be that pioneering force people look to and say, “That’s how you’re inclusive and that’s how you let your environment grow because you have faith in the contributions of all people.”
Last year the Department of Education designated UCF as a Hispanic Serving Institution. We also received the 2019 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine. We were ranked the top college in Florida for LGBTQ+ students by BestColleges.com. Recently, Forbes ranked us as one of the Best Employers for Diversity 2020, placing us No. 133 nationally and No. 4 in the state, across all different kinds of companies and institutions.
“We’ve received these rankings for a reason, but I would hope that UCF is a place that continually inspects who we are and works on improving it.”
We’ve received these rankings for a reason, but I would hope that UCF is a place that continually inspects who we are and works on improving it –– no matter what it is. Every day something new comes along that is a learning curve for folks, so it is important that we learn to be culturally responsive and begin to figure out how to authentically embrace people from all walks of life. Embracing diversity and being inclusive isn’t just a way for marginalized people to get ahead. It’s a way for all of us to work together and figure out how we get ahead together.
So, it’s great to see UCF gain recognition for these things because it shows we’re at least in the game. But part of being in the game is to continue to practice and to keep getting better, and I think we are definitely traveling along that trajectory.