Kirsten Cook, associate professor in accounting, was recognized twice for his range of diversity, equity, and inclusion service to Texas Tech University and to the Rawls College of Business.
Kirsten Cook, associate professor in accounting, was recognized with two prestigious awards for his broad range of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) service to Texas Tech University (TTU) and to the Jerry S. Rawls College of Business. On April 29, Cook was awarded the Inclusive Excellence Award from the Office of Institutional Diversity, and on May 5 he was awarded the Excellence in Service Award from Rawls College.
For Cook, being recognized for his service feels rewarding, but also a little strange.
“As a faculty member, I think about the folks on campus whose job it is to focus on DEI issues day in and day out,” said Cook. “I truly think that everybody on campus that cares about these things has to do their part or we're never going to be able to make any progress. To be recognized as a faculty member who is engaging in those things felt really nice.”
A large reason Cook focuses on DEI issues stems from his first year at Texas Tech. In 2013, Cook was deciding between a job in the accounting department at Rawls College or one at Portland State University. He decided Texas Tech would be best for his professional prospects, largely because of the doctoral accounting program and array of active tax researchers on the faculty. Although Cook grew up in Texas, he had never been to Lubbock or West Texas prior to starting at Texas Tech. Cook was unsure how welcoming Lubbock and Texas Tech would be to a member of the LGBTQIA community.
“When I got here, there were a couple of doctoral students who were members of the LGBTQIA community, “said Cook, who himself is gay. “They took me under their wing even though I was faculty and they were students. We started to spend a lot of time together and they, for me, created that initial community. I realized I wanted to be able to do that for others.”
Growing a Proud LGBTQIA Community
In 2017, Cook earned tenure and began to look for ways to help contribute to and strengthen the LGBTQIA community at TTU. After several informal meetings with Jody Randall, director of the Office of LGBTQIA Education & Engagement, Cook joined the TTU LGBTQIA Advisory Committee.
In one meeting, Randall presented the office's yearly work to enhance the Campus Pride Index ranking. One slide of the presentation, in particular, stood out to Cook: having an employee organization.
“[Randall] mentioned we didn't have one because we haven't been able to have any traction here,” said Cook. “To me, it sounded like a fun social thing to do, so I said ‘Well, let's try.'”
Cook and the committee emailed everyone they knew on campus who might want to be involved. According to Cook, there were about a dozen people at the first meeting.
Flash forward to today, and quite a bit has changed. For one, there's an official name: The Texas Tech LGBTQIA Faculty, Staff, and Graduate Student Association. There are also nearly 100 people on the mailing list, according to Cook.
“This group supports LGBTQIA individuals through networking opportunities, social activities, and advocacy on issues of importance to the community,” said Randall. “He serves as a voice to bring issues forward to the office and others in administration when necessary to strengthen inclusive educational and workplace environments.”
From Cook's perspective, the work Randall has done to enhance Texas Tech's Campus Pride Index rating is impressive. The Campus Pride Index is an overall indicator of institutional commitment to LGBTQ-inclusive policies, programs, and practices.
“Taking us from a 2-star campus when she arrived to a 5-star campus is phenomenal,” said Cook. “It's due to initiatives she's started and so many things that she and her team do. She's like a force of nature.”
“I'll say Dr. Cook's in a league of his own,” said Randall, reciprocating Cook's praise. “We have made tremendous success for LGBTQIA inclusion at Texas Tech the past five years as shown through the Campus Pride Index.”
Enhancing DEI Initiatives at Rawls College
In 2017 Cook also looked to become more involved in the Rawls College. It just so happened to be the same time that Margaret L. Williams was settling in as the dean of Rawls College, and Cook served as the accounting department's representative on Williams's strategic planning committee.
What stood out to Cook in an early meeting was Williams's commitment to working on DEI issues at the college-level. During that meeting, according to Cook, Williams encouraged a more inclusive vision for the college and addressed concerns that some people didn't believe Rawls College needed to focus on DEI issues.
“[Williams] was brand new and nobody really knew her well at that time,” said Cook. “It was a moment where I could see she truly cared about this. When that happened I thought, ‘OK. This is somebody I want to work with because if she cares about this, we can really make progress here.'”
Williams is pleased to see Cook being recognized for his commitment to service.
“Kirsten embodies one of the core values of our college,” said Williams. “Inclusion is a daily practice for Kirsten, and the impact of his actions can be felt by Rawls and TTU students, staff, faculty, and alumni as well as the accounting profession and accounting educators. Kirsten recognizes the importance of inclusive-excellence becoming part of TTU's culture. He is involved at the highest level, and I appreciate his encouragement to others to get involved in any way that makes sense for them.”
Following the strategic planning process, Cook joined the initial Diversity and Inclusion Task Force in the college. He now currently co-chairs the Rawls Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee and the Rawls College Diversity Symposium.
Deriving Value to Stay Motivated
For this past academic year alone, Cook was involved in eight distinct programs focused on DEI initiatives, which include:
- Rawls Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee (co-chair)
- Rawls Diversity Symposium (co-chair)
- Faculty Senate (climate committee)
- BIG12 LGBTQIA & Allies Summit (planning committee)
- LGBTQIA Advisory Committee
- Mentor Tech
- President's Gender Equity Council
- TTU Women's & Gender Studies (affiliated faculty member)
There are also professional accounting programs and initiatives that Cook is a part of. With so many irons in the fire, it could be easy to imagine someone being drained of energy.
“I think it depends where you derive value,” said Cook. “With service projects, you get that feeling of something being accomplished. To me, service is the aspect of the job that's most rewarding.”
One of those rewarding projects came this year during his time on the Faculty Senate.
“I'm really thrilled with the amendment to the senate's constitution that allows non-tenure acquiring faculty to be members of the faculty senate.”
According to Cook, while the amendment was added in April 2021, it had actually been a topic of discussion for several years, even going back before Cook's term started in 2018.
“I really think it's an issue of equity and inclusion,” said Cook. [Non-tenure-acquiring faculty] are dedicating an enormous amount of time and energy to teaching. By virtue of them doing that, it allows the tenured and non-tenured faculty to have more time to work on research, so everybody's contributing to the missions of the university in their own equally important ways.”
Finding Meaningful Ways to be Involved
As Cook reflects on all of the different service projects he's involved in and the areas of DEI that matter to him, he understands not everyone at Texas Tech or Rawls College can commit themselves the way he does.
“It's about finding meaningful ways to get involved that also don't take a lot of time from your other responsibilities. There's a lot of low-cost things anyone can do that aren't going to be particularly disruptive to a normal work schedule.”
The simplest and immediate first step anyone can take, said Cook, is to educate themselves.
“Go out and read about topics you care about. Find books and articles in the popular press or academic press. There are so many academic journals about higher education, and a lot of them have started publishing papers on DEI.”
Cook also suggested attending campus events that concentrate on a wide range of issues.
“There are all of these celebrations throughout the course of the year, and organizations often engage in activities during those months to educate and inform people,” said Cook. “Just hop on a Zoom call or walk across campus to an event. Meet people and learn about culture and history.”
Cook also encouraged faculty and staff to take advantage of some of the programming from the TLPDC.
“Pay attention to emails from TLPDC. They have so much phenomenal programming on DEI that, regardless of what you individually care about, there's something there that you can learn about and take back to your specific role.”
For Cook, the more people across Texas Tech and Rawls College who get involved, the more equitable and welcoming the environment can become.
“There are just so many people and groups on campus that care about these issues and are working on them within their colleges, and they're collaborating with people across campus. I think that there's just such an emphasis on this work that it's really invigorating to make progress and move forward.”