The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Commission for Blacks


Black @ UT

In Memoriam: Dr. Marva Rudolph

This issue of Black@UT is dedicated to Dr. Marva Rudolph, in recognition of her humble service to the University in advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion. The Commission for Blacks honors her devotion and service to make UT a diverse educational institution that strives to provide rich educational environment for its students, faculty, administrators and staff in an ’environment that is welcome to all and hostile to none.’

The one word that is repeatedly used to describe Dr. Marva Rudolph (“Dr. Rudolph”) is humble. After speaking with several of her close friends and colleagues, they admiringly stated that Dr. Rudolph worked very hard at advancing equity, diversity and inclusion, however, she never sought recognition for her acts to implement systemic changes to equity, diversity and inclusion at the University of Tennessee (“UT”). She was always behind the scenes working hard to facilitate an environment of inclusion and diversity. Dr. Rudolph “would communicate hard things about diversity. Not just say I am for it. She did more than just give diversity lip service. She had a way of manifesting diversity. She constantly served and modeled through her daily actions,” said Dr. Jennifer Richter, Dr. Rudolph’s close colleague. Undoubtedly, our lives are measured through the connections we build with others and the acts of service that we bestow upon others while we are on earth. Certainly, Dr. Rudolph’s contributions to African Americans and the UT community at large will not be forgotten with her passing on February 6, 2014.

Dr. Rudolph consciously worked against the remnants of institutionalized racism, segregation and discrimination that are a part of University of Tennessee’s history. While the University of Tennessee was desegregated in 1961 with the admission of three African Americans and its continued effort to combat discrimination with the 2011 implementation of the Rita Geier consent decree, many micro-level changes need to be instituted within the University to facilitate equality and institute diversity that brings a rich educational environment for students, facility, administrators and staff.

Dr. Rudolph focused on these goals in her role as the Associate Vice Chancellor and Director of the Office of Equity and Diversity at UT. Most people on campus are familiar with Dr. Rudolph’s involvement with ensuring that University hiring committees were complying with anti-discrimination laws. Dr. Rudolph would talk to search committees about diversifying their pools at the beginning of their searches and then at the end talk to the committees to get people to stop and think about their decisions and push them to realize how they could impact diversity and inclusion through their actions.

[Dr. Rudolph] had a way of manifesting diversity. She constantly served and modeled through her daily actions. —Dr. Jennifer Richter

Her work, however, was much more broad and in-depth in scope. Dr. Rudolph was charged with the very essential task of responding to complaints of discrimination filed on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, pregnancy, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, physical or mental disability, or covered veteran status at the University. She also was in charge of ensuring that the University was forward thinking in promoting diversity inclusion through facilitating the creation of diversity plans and reports. Dr. Rudolph worked to ensure equity in university recruitment and helped students. This is a challenging task, as Dr. Rudolph had to have very difficult conversations with people, at all levels, regarding the import of their conduct. Dr. Carolyn Hodges commented “Dr. Rudolph made the office a place where people would feel comfortable to go to address difficult issues and she placed the focus on the individuals coming into the office and made people feel overwhelmingly welcome.” She challenged people to take a look at their conduct and critically analyze how their actions impacted diversity and inclusion on campus. Dr. Jennifer Richter commented that Dr. Rudolph “was low key and did not pull any punches. We lost more than the Director of the office. We lost an individual who was committed to University and was very effective at her job.”

Although the responsibilities as the university’s equity and diversity administrator required Dr. Rudolph to be an enforcer of rules and regulations, she was also known to be nurturing and welcoming to her colleagues. In addition to being an enforcer of rules, her long time friend and colleague, Dr. Joy Desensi, indicated “she was a wonderful mentor to many faculty, staff and students on campus. She worked tirelessly and was very humble in the work that she did.”

We lost a superb servant, leader and champion for all, who will be sorely missed.
—President Joe DiPietro

Her work as the Associate Vice Chancellor was not her first foray into working for diversity and inclusion. From 1982 until her death, for over 32 years, Dr. Rudolph worked in the areas of human rights, diversity, and inclusion. Dr. Rudolph was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1949. Before joining UT in 1990 as a specialist in affirmative action, she worked with the Tennessee Human Rights Commission for 8 years. She took charge of the Diversity Resources and Educational Services (later renamed to the Office of Equity and Diversity) as the assistant director in 1994 and as the director in 1999. In 2013, Dr. Rudolph was promoted to Associate Vice Chancellor and Director of the Office of Equity and Diversity. Dr. Rudolph was a graduate of Riverside High School class of 1967. She received a Bachelor’s of Arts Degree from Knoxville College in 1971, a Master’s Degree in Urban Planning from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 1975, and Doctorate of Political Science from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 2007.

Dr. Rudolph was intensively involved with the Commission for Blacks for several years. She served as a commissioner, member of the executive committee, and chair of the bylaws committee. She was active with the Commission until shortly before her death and provided guidance on the Commission’s ongoing retention related initiatives. In accordance with the Commission for Black’s mission, Dr. Rudolph always stayed in touch with both the community and academia and worked hard to connect both constituencies. For example, when attending the monthly general meeting of the Commission in December, just two month before her death, Dr. Rudolph stressed on involving the Commission with the city’s Title VI Symposium to bring Knoxville business owners into the fold of the Commission’s initiatives on issues related to retention of African American in Knoxville.

Dr. Rudolph was also an active member of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and the Sacred Heart Cathedral Parish. Along with her love for the UT, Dr. Rudolph was also an avid golf fan and known for her unabashed loyalty to professional golfer Tiger Woods. “Our family will remember her for her humility and warmth”, said Dr. Rudolph’s son John Marcus Rudolph. Beside her son, she is survived by her husband, Johnnie; and daughter, Janna Michelle.

Dr. Rudolph made the office a place where people would feel comfortable to go to address difficult issues
—Dr. Carolyn Hodges

The death of Dr. Rudolph is a great loss for UT’s community. The equity, diversity, and minority-interest organizations at the UT will greatly miss her dedication, guidance, and experience. “We lost a superb servant, leader & champion for all, who will be sorely missed,” said University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro. In a time where many are searching for leadership in the forefront to promote principles of human rights and non-discrimination, Dr. Rudolph is an example of the power in humility that is present when a person ethically devotes their life to serving without fear and without seeking recognition. It is in these daily acts of service that true transformative change occurs in our society.

Recognizing her more than twenty years of contribution to UT and more than thirty years of dedicated work in diversity and inclusion, the Commission for Blacks, along with the Office of Multicultural Student Life, awarded Dr. Rudolph the African American Hall of Fame Award at the Chancellor’s Honors Banquet in April 2014. In the fall, there will be an induction ceremony to commemorate the diversity efforts and legacy of Dr. Rudolph. The Office of the Provost and the Office of Equity and Diversity have also jointly established a fund in honor of Dr. Rudolph to recognizing more than twenty years of contribution to UT and more than thirty years of dedicated work in diversity and inclusion.

Faculty and staff may make a gift to the Dr. Marva Rudolph Diversity & Inclusion Fund by writing the full name of the fund on their giving card and turning it in to your department representative. You may also give by visiting the Big Orange Family Campaign and entering the full name of the fund where prompted. For more information, call (865) 974-8949.

Special thank you to Dr. Rudolph’s dear friends Dr. Joy Desensi, Dr. Carolyn Hodges, and Dr. Jennifer Richter for their contributions to the article.


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