In 1804 five women were admitted into Blount College, which would later become the University of Tennessee Knoxville in 1879. With the admittance of these few women, the school became one of the first co-ed colleges in the country.
However, it wasn’t until 1893 that the university began regularly admitting women. Since then generations of women have been working to improve the environment, resources and legacy for all UTK women.
The Commission for Women (“CFW”) was founded in November of 1972 by Chancellor Archie Dykes. Its goal has always been to make UTK a place where women thrive and are able to excel in UTK’s workplace and community.
The commission has 24 voting members as well as two co-chairs who are all appointed directly by the university chancellor. The co-chairs for the 2022-2023 academic year are Dr. Courtney Cronley and Mia Pearson-Loomis who have been involved with the commission since 2021 and 2019, respectively.
Cronley is an associate professor in the college of social work and Pearson-Loomis is an academic coach for students in the Tickle college of engineering.
The CFW is "a passionate group of self-identified women who are keeping the issues alive, and keeping gender equity at the forefront,” Cronley said.
The group of women meet monthly via zoom due to the Covid-19 pandemic although the meetings are not open to the public.
However, the commission occasionally hosts panels and events for nonmember UT faculty and staff to attend. Every year the committee selects a Grand Challenge to investigate, identify, and advise the chancellor on what can be done to eliminate any issues that are discovered.
This year their Grand Challenge is Awareness of and Equitable Access to Healthcare Resources for All Self-Identified Women in the UTK Community. The goal is to advocate for both women's overall health and healthcare.
Over this academic year, the commission plans to increase awareness of what women have access to on campus and will share their findings on their website once the information becomes available.
It will “inform the campus community about current resources, and advise the chancellor and senior UTK leadership about gaps in those resources while identifying opportunities for improvement,” Pearson-Loomis said.
While the CFW continues to find ways to improve and empower women at UTK some of their previous successes include university-paid parental leave, holding a workshop on psychological safety and gathering data on pay equity.
The commission looked at parental leave policies from institutions like UTK to compile information to use in a policy proposal that was then shared with the chancellor and led to the university system-wide parental leave policy.
In March 2022 the “Stand Up, Speak Up: Promoting Psychological Safety at Work” workshop was held for faculty and staff.
The event “included an introduction by Dr. Mary Lucal and a keynote delivered by Dr. Lisa Yamagata-Lynch. These speakers were followed by workshops specialized to the concerns of both faculty and staff,” Pearson-Loomis said.
The commission creates pay equity reports to be shared with the chancellor who uses that data to make decisions involving the university.
CFW membership is open to all University of Tennessee faculty, staff, and graduate students. Each member serves for a maximum of three years other than the chair or co-chairs.
These positions are appointed by the chancellor after their third year and serve in their new role for two years.
“I'm proud to show up to this campus each and every day as my authentic self, and I have the Commission to Women to thank for it,” Pearson-Loomis said.
Although the commission is no longer accepting any new members for this academic year keep an eye out in the spring for the 2023-2024 application for the chance to be appointed to the CFW.