Jennifer Jabson Tree began teaching at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in spring 2014. She had arrived to UT Knoxville after working three years on a fellowship grant from the American Cancer Society to focus on training in cancer control and prevention at Boston University School of Public Health. While Jabson Tree has a love for research and academia, her journey to becoming a professor was unexpected.
“I am a first-generation college graduate and it never occurred to me that I could be a professor or a teacher. I started my college degree at a community college, a few years after I completed high school. I quickly realized I loved learning,” Jabson Tree said. “I finished an Associate of Arts degree and transferred to University of Oregon where I completed a BS in psychology. During that time, I began doing research at a local research organization and fell in love with data management and working with youth in foster care. “
Jabson Tree eventually discovered a passion for public health, and completed her masters of public health in 2006 and subsequently her PhD in public health at Oregon State University in 2010. Throughout her academic experiences, she was exposed to a variety of research opportunities that shape her perspectives on research and teaching today.
“During college, I worked for a local research facility funded by the NIH to improve physical and mental health, as well as reduce anti-social behavior, among high risk youth and families. All of these experiences have enhanced my research productivity and creativity, and my classroom teaching,” Jabson Tree said. “As I fell in love with research and using research to improve health and reduce risk for disease among marginalized groups, I thought I would do research. But, when I wasn’t teaching and focused exclusively on research, I missed teaching. Teaching is a deep and personal passion.”
Jabson Tree’s passion for teaching stems from her love of working with students, and learning about their own personal experiences that led them to the department and/or the course that she is teaching. Seeing students grow and witnessing the “lightbulb moments,” or the “moments of metamorphosis,” as she calls them, are Jabson Tree’s favorite moments about serving as a professor at UT Knoxville. She views teaching as a way of paying it forward, or giving it back to her students.
“As a cis-gender female, lesbian identified, American of Cuban ancestry, who grew up below the poverty line, I am grateful for my education and the successful academic career it has supported. As a first-generation college graduate, quality instruction and mentored relationships provided by teachers transformed my developmental and professional trajectory. I feel a huge measure of responsibility to pay it forward to continue teaching,” Jabson Tree said. “I want all students to feel included, like they belong, matter, and have important contributions to make in our learning community—even if the experience is new and not like experiences from home.”
Jabson Tree actively tries to foster inclusivity on campus through several classroom strategies, such as making sure all course materials are readable and audible, ensuring accommodations are made if necessary, featuring diverse leaders in the field during classroom sessions, and welcoming student interaction in-person, via email, by phone or via Zoom. She also advocates that stating, knowing and making space for pronouns is an important step in promoting inclusion in the classroom.
“I name my pronouns and encourage others to use and be aware of theirs and other’s pronouns, in the classroom setting. I believe that this is part of creating an inclusive and safe learning environment; knowing and using individual’s correct pronouns,” Jabson Tree said. “By naming this issue, elevating its visibility, it is one small way, in a sea of many possible ways, to promote inclusion and safety for transgender, non-binary, gender expansive, and gender non-conforming students.”
Jabson Tree is also an active member of the Commission for LGBTQ People, and praises the commission’s work for encouraging safety for the LGBTQ community on campus.
“I have been a member of the Commission since 2015. When I arrived at UT Knoxville, I was nervous about my safety as an Out, lesbian, faculty member, who did LGBT health research. The existence of the Commission made me feel a little safer,” Jabson Tree said. “Faculty, students, staff, and visitors who are members of the LGBTQ+ community and who may be considering joining the campus community in the future, look for organizations, groups, centers (such as the Pride Center), policies (i.e. gender neutral bathrooms), as signs for safety, degree of acceptance and welcome for our community.”
For faculty interested in learning more about creating inclusive environments for their students, check out our full list of resources.