I returned to UW-Eau Claire on Monday after a visit to Kansai Gaidai University in Japan. I had been invited there to help them celebrate their 70th anniversary and our more than 30-year partnership. Even though I was more than 6,000 miles away, I was still able to follow the protests at the University of Missouri, Yale University and other institutions across the United States. The stories of racist incidents and demands for change reverberated around the world. My first thought was, of course, for our campus.
We do not stand apart from the events unfolding across the country. Over the past two years I have personally heard equally heartbreaking stories from our students of color and members of our LGBTQ community. The stark reality is that while our university espouses values of equity, diversity and inclusivity, collectively we have fallen short in creating a learning environment that is welcoming, that is safe from racism, homophobia and sexism, and that is truly supportive for all our students, faculty and staff. Our actions belie our words.
I do not want to diminish the contributions over many years of those who have — and continue to — challenge racism and bias while also providing space for the free exchange of ideas at UW-Eau Claire. As the national events of the past several weeks make clear, however — and as participants in our own recent listening sessions have expressed — our commitment to our values of equity, diversity and inclusivity demands even more focus and energy, from all of us.
With this in mind, at the beginning of this academic year I announced that one of our four goals is to increase the number of students of color to 20 percent and to eliminate the opportunity gap. Not only will this goal assure that we better reflect our Eau Claire community and our society in general, but it can only be accomplished by creating a more inclusive, supportive campus environment for our students and for all.
My focus on this priority has not wavered. An implementation team, formed this fall with faculty, staff and students, will develop specific recommendations for making this goal a reality. Its implementation will have my foremost attention.
The implementation team will create a plan addressing the following:
- Find ways to embed equity, diversity and inclusivity into faculty and staff evaluations and promotion and tenure decisions. Our commitment to inclusive excellence must be a recognized expectation and a valued contribution for all our faculty and staff.
- Recommend campuswide professional development to increase employee and student cultural intelligence, improve campus climate and support the action plan.
- Identify strategies for recruiting more faculty and staff of color to a campus they can call home.
- Propose ideas for how departments and units can help reach our 20 percent goal.
- Find ways to connect us better as a campus in our efforts to address this goal.
The implementation team, led by David Jones and Ann Rupnow, will have their recommendations to me by the end of this calendar year — within six weeks. To develop their plan they have encouraged frank, sometimes difficult conversations. I also have asked anyone who has contacted me with ideas to connect with the team. I know the team will help us lay out a strong, collaboratively developed path to change, and I look forward to working with shared governance as an important partner.
There also is an important immediate step we can take that I am pleased to support. Yesterday, Provost Kleine and I met with faculty and students from the Hmong Studies Steering Committee, a group that has been working for several years on a proposal to expand our curricular and co-curricular offerings. I have endorsed their rigorous and thoughtful proposal to continue their work to consolidate curricula and to prepare the ground for hiring a tenure-track faculty member in order to formally inaugurate an official program in Hmong studies by the 2017-18 academic year.
These are important steps forward, but I also recognize that a chancellor cannot wave a magic wand to create a safe, vibrant campus that is affirming for all. Systemic racism is not unique to our campus but reflective of a much broader social challenge. As a result, change cannot happen overnight, and it certainly cannot happen by decree. It requires of us continual, individual commitment, a willingness to listen to each other, to face the uncomfortable together, and to take bold action as we move forward with stronger purpose.
I want you to know what I am doing, as your chancellor, to respond to clear needs at UW-Eau Claire. But I also ask your help. Creating a learning community that lives up to our values is an imperative. Creating a learning community where all students can thrive is simply the right thing to do. No work is more important — for me, for all of us. Let us continue this work, together.
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