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In a partnership between Student Success, the Student Government Association, and University Housing, first-year students are participating in a new diversity and inclusion initiative. SGA is housed in the Student Union, pictured here.

During Welcome Week 2020, first-year students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, participated in a new diversity and inclusion initiative, Let’s Talk: Vol to Vol. The 184 small-group sessions took place Tuesday, August 18, in a partnership between Student Success, the Student Government Association, and University Housing.

Let’s Talk: Vol to Vol is a campus-wide intergroup dialogue that brings together students from diverse identities, communities, and social perspectives for a conversation about how to engage in meaningful dialogue that respects our university community.

“At UT, we are committed to creating a welcoming environment for every student—an environment where every person and every interaction matter. This new peer-to-peer program is designed to encourage healthy conversations that allow students to share and reflect on their stories and critically listen and learn from their peers,” said Amber Williams, vice provost for student success.

Sessions were facilitated by more than 250 resident assistants and student leaders from across the campus, including the Student Government Association. Session facilitator Chris Perez, a senior in accounting and information management, was impressed with the commitment of first-year students during the process.

“Regardless of the seemingly impossible hurdles we are facing both on and off campus at this time, I am encouraged by the conversations that my scholars were able to have,” said Perez. “If this group of first-years is half as rockin’ as the group in my Let’s Talk session, I know that we’ve gotten an amazing addition to the Volunteer family.”

“For many first-year students, these Vol-to-Vol discussions were their first time engaging in conversations about their individual identities and the identities around them,” said Karmen Jones, UT’s SGA president. “It is so important that we continue to have healthy dialogues about who we truly are and learn how we can make the Vols around us feel like they matter and belong.”

Let’s Talk: Vol to Vol is phase one of the new initiative; most new students will also take FYS 101, a first-year transitions seminar where they will further explore how their stories impact their perspective on our world, policies, and personal choices. Phase Two—the Power of Perspectives, one of five required modules in the first-year seminar—is co-sponsored by the Department of Sociology.


Lacey Wood (