Dannetta Bland joined UNT System in July as Vice Chancellor and the inaugural Chief Diversity Officer (CDO). Equipped with years of experience advising Fortune 500 companies on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) issues, initiatives and strategies, she is now leading the charge to embed DEI into system-wide goals such as recruiting and retaining diverse faculty and staff, and ensuring student success.
She has spent her first couple of months on the job visiting each system campus numerous times, listening to leaders, faculty, staff, students, alumni, community partners and the list goes on.
Please read on for our Five Questions with...
... CHIEF DIVERSITY OFFICER DANNETTA BLAND:
1. For those who have not had the pleasure of meeting you yet, or hearing you speak, can you share a little bit about yourself and why you chose to come to UNT System?
Let’s see where to start… I recently relocated to North Texas with my amazing husband and three daughters. I was born and raised in and around Dallas-Fort Worth, but lived in Houston for over 20 years. I am, and will likely always be a Dallas Cowboys fan. I love sports and consider myself a foodie. My favorite pastime, outside of spending time with my family and friends, is meeting new people! As the great Will Rogers (and I am sure others) once said, “a stranger is just a friend you haven’t met!"
I, and I hope others, would describe my leadership style as being a servant leader; one who seeks to serve as my purpose in life. I recognized that I had reached a point in my life that I wanted and most importantly, needed to do more. Those who choose a career in higher education are called to serve, regardless of one’s role and level. A servant’s heart is required to make a difference and to make an impact in the lives of others. When I met Chancellor Roe and the UNT World selection committee, I heard the hopes, vision and aspirations of UNT World, and I knew this role was tailor-made for me at this exact moment in my life and this exact moment in UNT World’s journey.
2. This is the first time that UNT System has appointed a Chief Diversity Officer. Can you share what the role of a Chief Diversity Officer is and how it relates to UNT System?
My role as Chief Diversity Officer is to serve as a strategic thought leader and trusted advisor on all things related to DEI across UNT World. That's a lot of fancy consultant talk to say that this role will serve as a DEI subject-matter expert that will collaborate, consult, assess, develop and/or provide recommendations related to plans, processes, policies, programs and people at both UNT System Administration and our UNT institutions. I am focused on developing a DEI strategy with a roadmap that includes long and short-term plans and programs to help build a more diverse, equitable and inclusive culture for our faculty, staff, students, alumni, partnerships and community. For System Administration, I have a direct responsibility for building the Office of DEI, our strategy and ensure that DEI is interwoven throughout all that we do, full stop.
3. What is the current state of DEI throughout UNT World?
That’s a hard question to answer as each of our UNT campuses and System Administration are at varying maturity levels within their respective DEI journeys. I’ve spent my first couple of months on an intensive listening and learning tour and I realized that I cannot assess UNT World’s current state alone. For the first time in UNT World’s existence, we will have a formal assessment (not a survey) conducted by an external third party that specializes in DEI in higher education institutions to help us not only determine our current state, but also provide a comprehensive report that shares our gaps, prioritized recommendations and will be the foundation on which we build the UNT World DEI strategy.
4. We know the term DEI, but how does DEI as a system-wide initiative connect to our larger mission and values?
First and foremost, I hope to shift the paradigm of our thinking that DEI is "another initiative." It is so much more than that in my humble opinion. DEI is a business, community and higher education imperative. Granted, an initiative is defined as an act or strategy intended to resolve a difficult situation or to improve through a new refreshed approach; however, initiatives can be seen as a one-time fix whereas DEI is a journey and our culture, which includes people, processes and policies. DEI won’t be "fixed" overnight because of a single act or strategy. It takes work. It takes intentionality. It takes accountability. And most importantly, it takes all of us making a choice and a purposeful effort to see the fruits of labor.
If I were to boil down our mission and vision into two words it would be this: Transform lives. Transforming lives through experiences, education and opportunity for people today and those who come behind us. With Texas being classified as a minority-majority state, it is imperative that we are an active leader and contributor to society through education, employment and our community. We cannot fulfill our mission and vision without DEI being an integral part and/or driver of the conversation.
5. Our final question is a speed round (just so we can find a few more fun facts about you). Can you share the following?
- Favorite music and/or genre of music?: I love music! Michael and Janet Jackson are among my favorite artists and I love gospel and country music genres.
- Favorite food?: That’s a hard question because I love to eat! I am torn between Texas BBQ (there’s a distinction) and Mexican food. Oh, and don’t forget dessert, peach cobbler with Blue Bell ice cream -- nothing compares!
- Favorite thing you do outside of work?: Spending time with my family and friends. After being in isolation for so long and all the lives that have been lost due to social unrest and COVID, I treasure every minute.
- Tell us something that about yourself that may surprise others?: I love Lucille Ball and I Love Lucy. I am a huge collector of memorabilia and there’s not likely two days that go by that I Love Lucy is not playing in the house!