Since Southwest Airlines’ beginnings, the LUV airline has always approached business differently; democratizing the skies with affordable air travel, delivering Legendary Customer Service and connecting people to what’s most important to them. One thing that has remained constant since Southwest took to the skies is doing the right thing, and it always comes from the Heart. Southwest Airlines champions diversity and inclusion by fostering an inclusive work environment that encourages diversity of ideas, knowledge and actions. Our investment in the communities we serve is also reflective of that commitment to diversity and inclusion. This same commitment is exemplified by Becky Pettit, the new Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at UC San Diego. She carries these goals with her as a passionate advocate for others, helping make great strides toward a more inclusive and dynamic campus and community. Southwest Airlines is proud to support Dr. Pettit’s advocacy goals!
Many have heard the story of six-year-old Becky Petitt having been sent to the principal’s office after asking a teacher if she could make silhouettes of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks, who were as famous as the old White men the class had been assigned. In the story, after Petitt called her mother to convey that she had been disciplined for being “disruptive,” her mother angrily rushed to the elementary school. When she arrived, however, it was the principal who met her wrath, not Becky. Becky learned enduring lessons about the costs of exclusion and the importance of “speaking truth to power.” The episode, however, conveys the tenacity and advocacy she would learn by her mother’s example. Just as when Petitt’s brother, who is deaf, was told he needed to attend a school separate from his siblings, their mother began a tireless campaign to win the accommodations necessary for him to attend his siblings’ school, thereby improving the quality of education for other children facing similar structural challenges.
Her father, too, was a source of inspiration, instilling in her the fact that, as a Black woman in an overwhelmingly White world, she must fight for inclusion. He also provided her the resources to do so. Indeed, he had bought her the series of African American heritage books in which she learned about the civil rights leaders she had wanted to make into silhouettes.
Petitt carries those lessons and that passion with her as an advocate for others. As Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) at UC San Diego, she works to create the most welcoming living, learning and working environment possible for more than 60,000 faculty, staff and students. Since joining the university in 2014, Petitt has already left her imprimatur on campus culture, elevating her mission to strategically integrate diversity into all aspects of the university.
“It’s a mistake when Chief Diversity Officers are not properly introduced to the community,” Petitt says. “For every leadership decision, for every institutional decision, we must consider the impact on equity, diversity and inclusion.”
This motivation has resulted in the forthcoming Strategic Plan for Inclusive Excellence, the university’s first-ever campus-wide diversity plan. It aims to better attract and support a campus community more reflective of California’s demographics and includes accountability measures. Petitt developed much of her strategic planning knowledge in her previous position as Associate Vice President for Diversity at Texas A&M. There she helped develop a campus diversity plan that is now a national exemplar of sustainable institutional change.
Members of her team have affectionately referred to her as an overachiever, and her UC San Diego successes already demonstrate this. In addition to reinvigorating the campus-wide EDI Advisory Council, her office has created the Leaders for Equity Advancement and Diversity (LEAD) Fellows Program, which creates campus champions to engage difficult conversations around diversity in inclusion. She has overseen the launch of the Black Academic Excellence Initiativeand the Latinx/Chicanx Academic Excellence Initiative, both aimed at increasing access and retention of underrepresented minorities.
Even with so many successes, Petitt remains realistic that her work may never truly be finished. Ever the optimist, however, she views the pursuit of progress as her actual mission. “We have made great strides toward a more inclusive and dynamic campus community,” says Petitt. “At the same time, I recognize how much additional opportunity we have to attract and retain a diverse student population, a broadly representative faculty and a widely skilled workforce.”