Effective Jan. 19, 2021, John William Blue will become the first executive director of diversity, equity, and inclusion at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith.
Currently the director of Student Life and Multicultural Affairs at the University of Tennessee at Martin, Blue has a 15-year history in higher education including student affairs, multicultural affairs, and diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Blue will serve as a member of senior administration, providing vision and counsel on diversity and inclusion initiatives and reporting directly to UAFS Chancellor Dr. Terisa Riley. He will also lead the university’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee and subcommittees.
“One of my first questions upon arriving at UAFS for my interview to become the chancellor was of the status of the university’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts,” said Dr. Riley. “Over the past year, our university – much like our country as a whole – experienced turmoil that shined a light on the need for this work and the importance of the initiatives that will make UAFS a welcoming campus where all students, employees and guests feel valued and respected. I sincerely appreciate the hiring committee’s dedication to this search and their inclusion of members of our university and local community during the interview process. I am excited about the addition of Mr. John Blue to our senior leadership team and look forward to working with him as he leads us through the next steps in our diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.”
Blue’s experience in fostering diverse and inclusive campus environments with a focus on coalition and community building, student recruitment, retention, advocacy and strategic programming stood out to the committee during the thorough national recruiting process.
“I believe Mr. Blue has the skills, experience and drive to lead this university in both innovating new strategies and strengthening efforts that have already begun on campus,” explained UAFS Provost Dr. Georgia Hale, who chaired the search. “We know engaging our increasingly diverse community, empowering our faculty and staff to contribute to diversity work effectively, and providing opportunities for our students to learn and thrive in supportive environments are integral to our success, and I look forward to seeing Mr. Blue’s impact in those areas.”
“This institution is ripe for DEI work to commence,” Blue said after his initial conversations with campus leaders. “People are ready to advance the mission of this university. They’re are hungry for something new, and especially during the time we’re in socially in this country, this is the right time to move Fort Smith forward.”
During a mid-December visit to campus, Blue said he was impressed with Fort Smith and UAFS alike and excited to begin this work in a community where he can truly plant roots.
“Seeing the varied buildings and businesses and noticing the construction across town was reassuring,” he said. “And seeing the infrastructure on campus and the growth of the campus, too, you know you’re coming somewhere that is progressing, and that’s encouraging.”
“I will be taking my time when I start,” he added, “and speaking with the deans, department chairs and faculty as well as members of the community to see what’s already in place and how we can enhance what’s already being done. But I know Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
Listening will be a key component of Blue’s aim to create strong, lasting relationships to DEI work across the university and the River Valley.
“Diversity brings about innovation,” he explained, noting that bringing diverse people with diverse thoughts and experiences to the table betters the work of all, whether that means maximizing profits in businesses or advancing exploration in diverse academic fields of study.
Blue holds a Master of Science in Leadership from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; a Bachelor of Science in biology from Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi; and expects to complete his Doctor of Education in Higher Education from the University of Mississippi in 2022.