Deneese Jones brings a unique perspective to Trinity
by Carlos Anchondo ’14
Deneese Jones is on the edge of her seat. Her lips are pursed in concentration. Her hands are clasped tightly together. Decked out in maroon, she’s watching Trinity Women’s Basketball team in Sam’s Gym. The Tigers are ahead, but have recently allowed the TLU Bulldogs to come within one point with just over a minute on the clock.
After a TLU missed layup and foul, Trinity junior Allison Staley sinks two free throws to secure a Tiger win. Jones, Trinity’s vice president for Academic Affairs, jumps to her feet. She wears a broad smile as she claps in celebration. 74-71.
“Excitement to the infinite degree while watching TU WBB beat Texas Lutheran,” she writes on Twitter on Feb. 4. “Victory is so sweet! @TU_Basketball @TU_President19 @TUWBB.”
Jones, who favors the moniker Dr. Dee, is an avid sports fan and attends as many Tiger athletic events as possible. She feels called “to touch every aspect of the University” and her support of student-athletes is part of an intentionality about talking one-on-one with students, engaging with them in direct and meaningful ways. Her presence in the Bell Center is as important to her as a seat in an Alvarez Series lecture or a place in line at Chocolate Fest.
“It is important to me that wherever and whomever I am in contact with, that I touch them in some way,” says Jones. “It may have to do with academics or it may be on a very human aspect, but I want to invite the dialogue and tell students who I am.”
So who is Deneese Lakay Robinson Jones?
For more than 27 years, Jones has dedicated herself to a career in higher education. Starting in 1991 as an assistant professor of education at the University of Kentucky, Jones has served as a professor, a dean, an American Council on Education (ACE) Fellow, a provost, and today as a university vice president. From Kentucky to Kansas, Virginia to Iowa, and home to Texas, Jones has proven herself as an administrator and an educator.
She is also the first African-American vice president in Trinity history.
This is a fact Jones knows well. Yet, this is not her first time being a “first.” At her most recent position at Drake University, Jones was the college’s first African-American provost. Before that? The first African-American dean at Longwood University. In her office on the fourth floor of Northrup Hall, Jones nods her head, acknowledging this has been a constant pattern since her elementary school teaching days in Dallas.
A tinge of weariness passes over her face as though Jones has sat for similar interviews before. She has worked at predominantly white institutions her entire career, not once at a historically black college or university (HBCU). But being a first is just another part of who she is, a truth that “means I deal with the lack of experiences of people who look like me, who have had life experiences like me, and who have a different lens," she says. "I face that every day.”
Thoughtful and soft-spoken, Jones laments that we still live in a society and a country where firsts such as hers need to be recognized. She recalls a recent visit to Trinity by Michele Norris, the first African-American female host for National Public Radio, and how Jones sat on the Laurie Auditorium stage fighting to mask the emotions she felt in the worry that her feelings might be misunderstood. Although Norris was “singing her song,” Jones does not want to become the vice president labeled as the “diversity issues” administrator. On the flip side, she knows that issues of race might not ever be discussed if she isn’t the person to address the topic.
It is an “uncomfortableness” that Jones walks in each day, not only as an African-American, but as a woman as well. Jones attributes a comfortability with sameness with the lack of diversity in the upper echelons of higher education. An expert in equity pedagogy, Jones regularly uses the phrase “difference is not deficit” in her writings.
“I am always going to be acculturated – never assimilated,” says Jones. “I will always be who I am racially, ethnically, and I will always be a woman.”
Ten months into her position, Jones is working with department chairs to recalibrate the hiring process at Trinity, to ensure faculty mentorship, and to implement the University's Trinity Tomorrow strategic plan and Pathways curriculum. As a member of the president’s executive staff, Jones also lends her unique perspective. In her day to day, she is cognizant that everyone, including herself, comes to the table with their own set of experiences.
So go meet Dr. Dee. Engage. Watch a game. Have a conversation. Share where you come from. She may be the first African-American vice president at Trinity, but she’s also so much more.
Carlos Anchondo is a writer and editor for University Marketing and Communications. He is a 2014 graduate of Trinity and can be found at @cjanchondo or canchond [at] trinity.edu.