When I was a candidate being considered for your presidency, there were many things I learned as part of that process—our students' passion for making change; our faculty’s focus on high-quality scholarship and teaching; and our sense that AU has a boundless horizon ahead of it.
However, I did not fully realize the prominence that inclusion and a sense of belonging—or all too often a lack thereof—had played in where AU had come from, and where it was going.
The painful incidents of hate and bias that started right before I arrived rocked our campus community in my first year.
Work had started before I arrived, but it was clear as I spoke with students, faculty, and staff throughout our campus that more needed to be done.
In the two years since I sat down for that first interview for your presidency, inclusive excellence has become part of our daily work. I know that it is my job to help lead on this issue, and part of that leading is for me to grow personally, too.
I took the Intercultural Development Inventory to see where I can learn and improve. I worked closely with the members of my cabinet as we discussed how we plan to improve as individuals and as a leadership team. It takes introspection, and steady work, but I believe progress is achievable—and essential.
As I look across campus, although I still see challenges, I see some encouraging, early promising signs. Signs like leaders across campus talking about how they can support inclusive excellence; how it is infused throughout our new strategy; and how I hear more and more that people believe inclusive excellence is the key to our core mission.
If you visit the Plan for Inclusive Excellence website, you can see some of these green shoots of progress. I’ll briefly highlight several.
First, we see promising trends. This past fall, 69 percent of first-year students said they felt an initial sense of belonging at AU, and we saw relative consistency across racial and ethnic backgrounds, an increase from 63 percent in fall 2017.
Second, we’re seeing signs of faculty and staff learning and development. This past fall, more than 450 AU faculty and staff participated in inclusive excellence trainings, and more than three quarters of them said they learned something they will use to make their teaching or work more inclusive.
Finally, we’re seeing progress in access and equity. Increasing access is a key element of our strategy. Thanks to partnerships like our dual enrollment program with DC Public Schools and the School of Education’s Center for Postsecondary Readiness and Success, we’re opening the door to students from different backgrounds and ensuring they have a fair chance to succeed once they’re enrolled.
We’re calling these promising signs for a reason. They’re not guarantees, nor are any of them alone going to bring about inclusive excellence at American University. They’re indicators of progress and a sign to keep working.
Along the way, there will be moments that test our community and our progress—when we’ll need to come together. As a community that seeks to improve and become a model of inclusion, we are likely to attract unwelcome attention. There may be some who provoke us, seeking to divide us. We’ll need to ensure the safety and security of our community while we uphold its vital values of inclusion and free expression.
As we move forward into year two of the plan, we will stay accountable and transparent, which is why we’re releasing this one-year report. We’ll measure and assess the work we do.
But we can’t do it alone. We cannot make these changes without you and your engagement.
We also hope you will join in the conversation as the President’s Council for Diversity and Inclusion engages the campus community this spring about priorities for the next three years of the plan. You can always reach out via email to DICouncil@american.edu to share your thoughts and ideas.
Thank you for all you have done, and all you continue to do, to challenge us to be a better institution and to help us learn and grow. Together, we’re writing a new chapter of American University’s story. One that is excellent because it is inclusive—for every member of this community.