By Emily Reed
For Dr. Sierra Turner, creating opportunities for more diversity at the University is a key goal.
“I am responsible for cultivating relationships with minority communities in and around Montevallo in order to increase the diversity of our student population,” Turner, who is the University’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, said. “I am always looking for ways to diversify our faculty and staff so that those groups reflect the changes in the student population that we have seen in recent years.”
Turner, who has been at the school since 2013, initially started as an adjunct professor. She, now, also serves as the coordinator of the Office of Service Learning and Community Engagement and is a Spanish instructor.
“I want Montevallo to be known for its focus on diversity, inclusion and equality,” Turner said. “I want Montevallo to be a safe space for anyone that visits its beautiful campus, and I want Montevallo to be a space where we can bring together diverse groups of ideas, identities and perspectives to help everyone grow and solve problems.”
During her time at Montevallo, Turner has worked to tout the myriad of benefits that come with increasing diversity.
“Studies have shown that a more diverse campus environment is beneficial not only to minorities, but also to everyone on campus,” Turner said. “It makes for a richer environment that provides students, faculty and staff with meaningful opportunities for cross-cultural communication, which I personally believe is something that we need more of in today’s society.”
Prior to coming to UM, Turner taught at The University of Alabama for eight years.
“While I loved being at UA, my time at Montevallo has been incredible,” Turner said. “I attended a small college as an undergraduate and I loved the small-campus feel that you get at Montevallo. I also think that Montevallo is special because of its students. It is an amazing feeling as an educator when you see different groups of students working together.”
During her time at UM, Turner has worked closely with the M.A.D.E. program, an initiative that has transformed into a comprehensive program seeking to engage incoming students during their time at Montevallo. The program’s name stands for “Minorities Achieving Dreams of Excellence.”
“Our focus with this program is to ensure that the students have the tools they need to successfully adapt to the rigor of being in college while also providing them with the academic, social and professional support they need to do well at UM and graduate,” Turner said.
Outside of UM, Turner has also worked closely with the Montevallo Community Remembrance Project (MCRP), which seeks to recognize the double lynching that occurred in the city of Montevallo in September 1889.
On Aug. 26, 2019, the city of Montevallo approved a proposal, which Turner participated in, to have a lynching marker installed.
“My coalition co-leaders and I, Dr. Paul Mahaffey and Dr. Kathy King, have spent the last year advocating for the installation of this marker,” Turner said. “Currently, we are planning our unveiling ceremony, which is scheduled to take place in March 2020.”
Turner is also working on a few additional projects as part of the larger MCRP, one of which consists of a scholarship essay contest in partnership with the Equal Justice Initiative in Shelby County and the Alabaster and Pelham city school districts.
“I am also working with the amazing staff at the David Matthews Center to develop a discussion guide that we plan to use to host and facilitate public forums about the politics of memory and forgetting and how we discuss issues like race and racism,” Turner said.
Turner said that looking at UM’s student body, it is easy to tell the strides the school has made to be more diverse.
“You can really see our progress when you look at the number of minority students on campus,” Turner said. “It has grown significantly, and we are hoping to continue to bring more minority students on campus. We still have some work to do, but I believe that we are moving in the right direction. We are committed to improving the diversity of the various constituencies on campus and to building more meaningful relationships with the communities that we serve.”