President David Angel speaking - Clark University

President's Office

Forum on Race

Forum on Race

 

November 24, 2015

To Alumni, Families and Friends of Clark,

Matters of race are shaping a vital conversation on college campuses across the country. Last Wednesday we brought that dialogue to Clark University by holding a Forum on Race that was attended by large numbers of students, faculty and staff in both Tilton Hall and in Jefferson 320, where the Forum was simulcast. I am grateful to the students and faculty who helped organize the Forum, and most especially to the Clark students who courageously spoke about their experiences with racism and prejudice. The commitment we made at the Forum was first to listen, to ensure that the voices from our community are truly heard, and then to act.

Students at the Forum identified a variety of actions we can take now and over coming weeks and months to strengthen our community and ensure students of color at Clark University feel welcomed, and can flourish and succeed. I have also received thoughtful written calls for action from students and others. These voices are not a rejection of Clark University, but a legitimate and heartfelt call to improve our University in line with our history, our mission, and our values. Every one of us at Clark University can make a difference in this effort, but the concerns also require an institutional response.

One major theme of the Forum on Race was the need to build the competency of our community with respect to diversity and inclusion, especially around the ways in which our actions are experienced by students, faculty and staff of color across the campus. To address this concern the University will undertake a major initiative to enhance these competencies on the part of all members of the campus community, including administration, staff, full-time and part-time faculty, police officers, undergraduate and graduate students. Success in this initiative requires the participation of all and we will implement programming on this required basis. In addition, research confirms that building and embedding competency depends on on-going programming rather than one-off training initiatives. The programming will be implemented in ways that meet the specific needs of individual units and departments, such as enhanced Week One orientation for incoming undergraduate students, programming for graduate students, professional development training for staff and coaches, and faculty-focused workshops within academic departments. We will begin immediately to design an implementation plan for this initiative.

The capacity to implement initiatives around diversity and inclusion requires full-time leadership and dedicated staff time. Three years ago, I established the half-time position of Chief Officer of Diversity and Inclusion as a direct report to the President. Betsy Huang, an associate professor in the English Department, currently serves in this capacity. Professor Huang's leadership, as well as that of the faculty Committee on Diversity and Inclusion and the Committee on Campus Climate, has already made a tremendous difference on our campus, particularly in the areas of faculty hiring, diversity enrichment programming, and campus advocacy for diversity awareness and inclusive practices.

At the same time, the experience of the past three years has confirmed that the responsibilities of this office exceed current staffing levels. Last month Professor Huang, the Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, and Faculty Steering all recommended to me that I launch a search for a full-time Chief Officer of Diversity and Inclusion (CODI). I have accepted this recommendation and a search has already been initiated to fill this senior leadership position. The new full-time CODI position incorporates the responsibility of Title IX coordinator. Students, faculty and staff will be on the search committee. We will fill this position with the full understanding that, while dedicated leadership and staff time is important, the responsibility for diversity and inclusion is shared by us all and cannot start and stop in this one office.

Resources in student affairs are central to our work on diversity and inclusion. We recently announced the appointment of a new Assistant Dean of Student Affairs, Dr. Nadja Johnson, whose work focuses especially on students of color and international students. Dr. Johnson joins the staff on January 4th, 2016. In addition, a search is underway to fill the position of Director of Multi-Cultural Affairs and First-Generation Student Support, a position that has been expanded from half-time to full-time. I hope to be able to share with you positive news on this and other searches very soon. Working with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, I will charge the new Dean of Students with re-examining our organizational approach to supporting students of color and other students, including the role of resource centers in providing this support. There is a need for dedicated space to support students of color and associated academic and co-curricular programs. Plans are well underway, and are re-affirmed here, to locate these activities in the ground floor of Dana Commons including and connecting with the existing McCann Resource room.

Diversity in our employees is important at all levels of the institution. One urgent need is in counseling services. I am pleased to announce that we will expand staffing resources in counseling services with a particular focus on counselors of color and/or counselors trained in race dynamics.

We must re-double efforts to diversify the composition of Clark's faculty and staff. This has been an urgent priority for some years. The Office of Diversity and Inclusion in collaboration with the Academic Administration launched an initiative to appoint a diversity advocate on all faculty search committees. This approach is making a difference. In the past three years we have filled 29 full-time, tenure-track faculty positions. In these 29 searches, we hired 12 outstanding faculty of color. There are discussions now underway among the faculty and with the administration as to the best way to accelerate further our progress on recruiting, mentoring, supporting and retaining faculty of color.

Among the recommendations made at the Forum on Race was re-visiting the structure of our undergraduate Program of Liberal Studies. A Clark education must cultivate among our students the personal and social responsibilities needed to navigate the contemporary world, including the inter-sectional relations among race, gender, sexuality, class and religion in our society. Other recommendations focus on expanding the race and ethnic relations concentration within our newly established Center for Gender, Race and Area Studies. At Clark and other universities it is the faculty who have primary responsibility for academic programs. I have already heard from many faculty who are excited and committed to taking up these questions within appropriate faculty committees, such as the Undergraduate Academic Board and the Graduate Academic Board of the faculty. I will discuss with faculty leadership the best way to do so.

This semester the Office of Diversity and Inclusion has been leading an effort to enhance the protocols we follow when bias incidents and hate crimes occur on our campus. We will take immediate steps to assemble a team to further develop these protocols, including around how best to address micro-aggressions and other forms of bias experienced by members of our community. Updated protocols include an expectation that the campus community will always be notified of hate incidents in a timely manner, alongside of notification to appropriate authorities. We will insure that training is provided to those tasked with responding to bias incidents and hate crimes, and that the protocols are widely communicated.

All of these initiatives, as well as other work, will be brought together as an integral part of Clark University's strategic plan, as well as in the plans of individual departments. In developing a strategic plan for diversity and inclusion, the University will seek the assistance and insight of external expertise in identifying needs and opportunities. Coordinating this external insight will be one of the first responsibilities of our new Chief Officer of Diversity and Inclusion. Now and over the coming weeks and months, I will work closely with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, faculty leadership and with the Board of Trustees to ensure such consideration takes place with urgency, but also with thoughtful reflection and attention to process. I will support further initiatives to ensure voices are heard, including those of graduate students, staff and other equally valued members of our community.

The events of the past two weeks have tested our community. It is also the case that events across the country and around the world impact all of us at Clark. Some in our community are feeling uncertain, vulnerable, and hurt. I urge all of us to demonstrate an ethos of care and respect for others. If you see someone in need of support, please do not wait for others to act. The Dean of Students recently sent a reminder to all students about resources available on campus, including that of Counseling Services. We are all part of one Clark.

Clark University seeks to prepare students to meet the challenges of a complex and rapidly changing society. Let us work together to continue this dialogue and take action to further strengthen Clark University in fulfillment of this important mission. Let us do so with the creativity, compassion, and commitment to positive change that are markers of this great university.

Sincerely,

 

David Angel
President