Renetta Garrison Tull joined UC Davis as the university’s first vice chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in July 2019, less than a year before the high-profile killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and others led to widespread civil unrest across the nation and stark discussions about racial inequality.
Combine that with the COVID-19 pandemic and it’s been a tumultuous start to Tull’s career at UC Davis, and she said she sometimes gets questions about whether she made the right decision to come here when she did.
“And I tell them if I was going to do it anywhere, I'm so glad that I'm here doing it at UC Davis, because I do believe that we're doing a lot,” Tull told Chancellor Gary S. May on the most recent episode of Face to Face With Chancellor May, released today (Feb. 28). “We have the support that we need to move forward to work on these things.”
She discussed the stresses that come along with working in diversity, equity and inclusion, and the support system she relies on, including colleagues at UC Davis and other UC campuses, along with her church — even if she has to attend virtually.
Tull and May discussed Black History Month, and ways Tull’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is both marking the occasion and working longer-term to improve the experiences of Black students.
Tull cited Aggie Black Excellence, a new initiative in her office that is currently focused on addressing anti-Blackness. She also stressed the importance of representation and making Black students feel welcomed on campus. That idea is spreading beyond her office; she said a library staffer recently spotted a tour group of Black students and personally escorted them to the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for a welcome.
“We were able to give them some snacks and some swag and just say: ‘Welcome to campus. We want to see you here,’” Tull said. “So we try to be that for people in the community.”
Tull also mentioned the effect representation has had on her, like when she was an undergraduate student at Howard University studying electrical engineering and saw May — who she said had either just completed his Ph.D. or was in the process of doing so — on stage at a conference for the National Society of Black Engineers.
“It was that idea that, wow, there are Black folks who go and get their Ph.D.s in engineering,” Tull, who would go on to earn a doctorate in speech science and become an electrical engineer, said of the event. “That was the first time that I had seen that.”
Watch their full conversation in the video above to learn what song Tull has been listening to lately, her favorite travel destination and what she might be doing if she weren’t in this field.
Cody Kitaura is a News and Media Relations Specialist in the Office of Strategic Communications, and can be reached by email or at 530-752-1932.