Stacy Lightfoot has a plan to hit the ground running. A 1oo-day plan, that is.
Lightfoot, who joins the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga on July 1 as the institution’s first vice chancellor for diversity and engagement, has put together what she calls a roadmap for learning and leading during her first few months in the new role. Her findings will serve as a guide for long-term visioning and strategic direction.
And it all starts with networking on campus, putting together names and faces.
“To me, relationship building on campus is critical to the success of this work. One of the first things I’ll be doing is meeting the people of UTC and getting to know the key stakeholders, the students and what people are working on,” Lightfoot said. “It’s genuinely about hearing and listening to all the excellent work that departments are doing or want to do and find ways to support that.”
Lightfoot, the first woman of color to hold a cabinet-level position at UTC, said she doesn’t want people to think of diversity and engagement as a department.
“I want people to think about diversity and engagement as the culture and a mindset that UTC can embrace and embed into the fabric of the institution,” she said. “The success of this work should not rest on one person; it will be a collective effort and the collective energy of supporters in and outside of UTC,” she said.
“DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) work is about culture, and as I collaborate with others across the campus, I want to support leaders in their efforts to take meaningful steps to address diversity, equity and inclusion in their departments and support them in identifying the most effective DEI policies, practices and initiatives.”
Lightfoot said she has responded to at least 1,000 congratulatory messages via phone calls, voicemails, texts, emails and social media since the announcement of her appointment on May 3. Messages are from people across the country, “including friends and colleagues from national affiliations, the business community, the philanthropic community and the nonprofit community here in the city,” she said.
“They are so excited about what UTC is doing and to learn about how they can be a part of the growth.”
Along with holding introductory meetings and putting together a staff, other vital components of her early days on campus include gaining a deeper understanding of University data and working closely with senior leadership on the new strategic plan that’s about to launch.
“Committed faculty, staff and leadership have been working on UTC’s new strategic plan. It is imperative that the institution’s leadership stay committed and actively involved in the implementation of the strategic plan with an intentional focus on achieving the DEI metrics and outcomes that have been set,” Lightfoot said. “As VCDE, I plan to lift up this work daily and support campus leaders and students in meaningful ways.
“The experiences that students have at an institution help them be better prepared for the changing global economy and to enter a diverse workplace. UTC has the opportunity to bolster the kind of diverse engagement experiences that result in global-minded students.”
Lightfoot comes to UTC after spending the last 12 years with the Public Education Foundation (PEF) in Chattanooga, most recently as the organization’s executive vice president.
A Chattanooga native, Lightfoot began working at PEF—a local nonprofit that provides training, research and resources to teachers, principals and schools in Hamilton County and surrounding areas—as a lead college advisor in 2009.
While she will be blazing the trail of a new position at UTC, Lightfoot has spent plenty of time on campus. She has been an adjunct instructor, teaching multicultural counseling to graduate students. She has served as chair of the Chancellor’s Multicultural Advisory Council, and she has worked directly with numerous University departments and programs. And as a Chattanooga School for the Arts & Sciences student, located across Third Street from UTC, she crossed the street many times to study at the old Lupton Library.
“But it’s very different when you’re living in the house than looking at the house from the outside,” Lightfoot said. “Before now, I have had a great 50,000-foot view of what’s going on at UTC. To be an intimate insider now is what excites me, and I think it will drive a lot of good work for diversity and engagement.”
Growing up 10 minutes from campus on the east side of Chattanooga, Lightfoot said she first learned about the institution from her mother, Cula “Cleta” Peavy Goodwin, who attended Chattanooga City College and UTC, and her aunt, Marvis Peavy McKeldin. The Peavy sisters are pictured next to each other in the 1970 Moccasin yearbook.
Cleta, who passed away in 2019, was involved in starting the University’s Zeta Kappa chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.
“I know she’s smiling that my career has taken me to the start of hers,” Lightfoot said. “It was at UTC where she made a lot of friends—women that I still keep in contact with—so this feels like a full-circle moment for me.
“UTC was integrated shortly before she was there, and my Aunt Marvis talks a lot about how UTC embraced students who were at Zion College and Chattanooga City College. So, this is a historic moment for my aunt as well, seeing her niece now being a part of where their careers started.”