In the two weeks since my message to the UNC community on June 1st, I have engaged in dialogue with many people about demonstrations against police violence and the amplification of demands that people in positions of authority—like myself—put action behind calls for social justice. I am proud of our students, faculty, staff, and alumni who are showing leadership by facilitating and participating in peaceful protests that give voice to concerns that have been ignored for far too long. I am also grateful for students who have reached out to me to share their own experiences and to hold me and my team accountable to do more to support our students of color.
Students have shared with me fears that they could fall victim next and colleagues worry whether their children will make it home safely each time they walk out the door—I am troubled by this reality. I am also angered by hearing students’ recollections of being discriminated against in our classrooms and on campus—sometimes explicitly and other times through an endless chain of microaggressions.
I see you. I hear you. And, I am concerned about the chilling effect these experiences have as our students pursue an education to follow their dreams. I promise to do better to seek understanding—and, more importantly, to stand with you in solidarity and take action to ensure that the University of Northern Colorado more fully honors its commitments to equity and inclusion to support and ensure access, safety, and dignity for marginalized populations.
We must continue to advance this important work. The last couple weeks have surfaced several actions that we can begin taking immediately. They include:
- Engaging myself and my Cabinet in self work and facilitated discussions to better understand our privilege and what we can do to support our students and colleagues of color and members of other marginalized groups. Workshops we had scheduled for the spring were disrupted by COVID-19 and I am eager to move forward now. My leadership team needs to lead the way in demonstrating the importance of participating in reflection, education, and professional development focused on creating a more equitable and inclusive culture at UNC.
- Mandating similar education and professional development for faculty and staff so that UNC employees are better prepared to employ equity-minded and inclusive practices in our teaching, work, and interactions with students and each other. Our goal is for every employee to participate by the end of the 2020-21 academic year and for this requirement to be ongoing.
- Expanding the training and professional development provided to officers in the UNC Police Department and facilitating dialogue with our students to continue to ensure that those who are sworn to protect our students, faculty, and staff can do their work with empathy and respect, but also ensure that their presence makes each of us feel safer on our campus.
- Articulating UNC’s ongoing commitment to sustain our cultural and resource centers and support university-wide programming recognizing cultural heritage months to honor, reflect on, and learn more about the histories and contributions of each of these communities.
- Empowering our Chief Diversity Officer with greater authority to ensure more diverse applicant pools with the goal of hiring and retaining more faculty and staff of color.
- Enhancing the partnership between New Student Orientation and students and staff involved in our campus cultural and resource centers to help educate incoming UNC students about race and identity development as new students begin the next stage of their formative years.
Some of these initiatives are already underway. This work will take time, but I know that you will hold us accountable to produce results. I will continue to prioritize and identify ways that we can work together to address systemic racism and social injustice on our campus and in our community.
In January, Dr. Tobias Guzmán began his work as the University’s Chief Diversity Officer. Through his work in developing the Empower Inclusivity pillar of our strategic plan, Dr. Guzmán and other colleagues made good progress in identifying other steps we can take just before COVID-19 disrupted the normal operations of the University. We will revisit that work soon to review additional actions we can take in the coming months and will communicate our progress with you.
It should not have taken the murder of another person of color, and more specifically a black male, to instigate the action that so many of us know has been long overdue—at our University, in our communities, and across our nation. Already, George Floyd’s was not the last life lost. Eliminating systemic racism will take an ongoing, concerted effort. I am open to your suggestions about what we can do to improve at UNC and want to hear from you. This is a time for intentional and collective action and a time for affirming unequivocally that Black Lives Matter, not just by our words, but by our actions.
Rowing, Not Drifting,