Spotlight: Kayla Woodson, Member of DEI Leadership Team

Photo of Kayla Woodson, member of DEI leadership team

Since returning to the University of Kentucky and serving as chair of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Implementation Plan, I have had the honor of meeting many impressive individuals who are passionate about making this place a safe and empowering community for all.

I have been especially impressed with our students who dedicate their time and energy to improving the UK experience for their classmates, friends and peers, all while earning their degrees.

One of those students is Kayla Woodson, a junior from Louisville, Kentucky, who serves as a student representative on the DEI Leadership Team. I recently had the privilege of sitting down with Kayla, over Zoom, to learn more about her experience at UK, her goals and what she hopes to accomplish as a member of the team.

Tell me a little about yourself.

I’m from Louisville, Kentucky—born and raised—and I attended Atherton High School. Since coming to UK in 2018, I’ve been fortunate to participate in a lot of organizations and groups on campus. I worked in the LGBTQ+ Resource Center office for two years as an intern and I’ve been in SGA for all three years I’ve been here. My freshman year I was a coordinator and also in the Leadership Development Program. My sophomore year I was a senator at large, and this year I am currently serving as the director of equity and inclusion.

I’m a political science major, and I’m also minoring in journalism.

What is it like to be a student at UK? Can you talk from your perspective and then also speak for all students as best you can?

Personally, my experience has been pretty nice. I’ve been fortunate enough to find myself in many different positions and areas of campus that have made me feel more connected and more at home. I’ve been fortunate to find places where I feel validated and feel like I’m somewhat safe in the space I’ve been able to find myself in. That’s the part that I’ve really enjoyed about UK, and I feel like that’s something that most students are able to find for themselves. I’ve been able to find community in the LGBTQ* Resource Center Office and SGA and the MLK Center. I feel like students are able to have those opportunities to find community, but I also feel like there are students who are slipping through the cracks who definitely need that support that we are hoping to give in our own way. As a member of SGA, I hope to find ways to give students who feel left behind or feel left out that opportunity to feel similar to how I feel about the places I’ve been on campus.

I received a lot of encouragement from staff and faculty when I was a student, and I'm not so sure all students get that today. That was something that I needed. I needed somebody, on occasion, to say to me, “We're glad you're here, and you're going to make it.” I maybe would have made it without that, but that was important. Have we, people like myself, administrators and faculty, have we done that for students today? Or have we not done that well enough?

I've had two different experiences with how I've had interactions with administration. I feel like within my major college there are faculty who make me feel like I belong here, and there are also experiences that I've had that have made me feel like this isn’t really worthwhile. But I do think there’s been a lot of support from administration that has definitely made me feel that my existence here is worthwhile, for instance, when I was working with Rayne Parker in the LGBTQ* Resources Office. Having them as a confidant and as someone to talk to really kept me here during those first fragile two years. They made me feel welcomed on campus. I do think there could be more support, but I feel like there are areas where people can find people to support them through their journey in college.

So, you’re on the DEI Leadership Team. What do you say is DEI, and why are you a part of it? What do you think this is all about?

To me, it’s all about leaving the university better than how I found it for the people who come after me. I’ve been very fortunate in my time here, but I know there have been students who don’t necessarily feel the same way. I think the biggest takeaway is that when I leave, when those students leave, I hope students who come here don’t have to have those negative experiences and don’t have to feel like they’re “others.”

Unfortunately, I’ve had those experiences, too. I just want to make sure those don’t happen again because negative experiences can have a long-lasting impact on how you view yourself and society, how you view your future and your career. So, it’s important that we change the culture of how things are here so it can really jumpstart someone else’s life. Changing the culture around DEI, around anti-racism, around community, will really impact future generations and how people live the rest of their lives. It definitely starts earlier in life, but if you can change how someone experiences racism, how they think about racism now, it can have long-lasting impacts on everything.

When I was your age, if someone asked me to think about how I would be at age 50, that would have seemed crazy to me. But, I’ll ask you: how do you see yourself at age 50? What would you like to do, either for or with the University of Kentucky? What kind of impact would you like to have?

I would really like the university to be more diverse by the time I’m in my 50s. I was very fortunate to have been able to be a part of making things more diverse. My freshman year, my LDP class was apparently the most diverse class we ever had. But it sometimes didn’t feel like it was the most diverse class.

So, I just hope that more diverse actually means more diverse by the time I’m 50. I hope students can see themselves in administration and in the faculty who are leading and teaching them. And not just seeing themselves, but actually feel comfortable while they’re here pursuing their education. Earning your degree is very anxiety ridden, and it’s only adds more anxiety when you feel like you’re not being seen or like you’re not being treated appropriately. That’s definitely what I want to change the next 50 years, and I hope to be part of that change.

Is there anything you want to share with your fellow students and community?

Yes, I’ve been very fortunate to have this adrenaline kick in where I feel like I can do and say whatever I need to do and say because it’s the right thing to do. But I really hope that students also find that strength within themselves to do that, and to also use their positions and privilege of power to give people who don’t necessarily have that opportunity to speak up for themselves or advocate on their behalf. Making social media posts is fine, but unless you actually put in that work, unless you actually build your platform for other people to actually advocate for themselves, it can all be for nothing. So, please just make sure that you’re advocating for people and that you’re giving them the ability to advocate for themselves.