Dear AU Community,
At American University, Black lives matter. While we have made some important progress toward racial equity, justice, and inclusive excellence thanks to the ongoing dedication of many staff, students, faculty, and alumni, we continue to struggle with our racial climate. Recent weeks have been difficult for many reasons, especially for our Black community, and demonstrate just how much work we have ahead of us. We know our Black students, faculty, and staff and communities of color have shouldered a disproportionate burden in leading the effort for racial equity on campus and beyond.
We need to do more as an institution, and today I am sharing new and ongoing actions we are taking to advance racial equity and combat racism. This is not a comprehensive list, and I do not offer these words as a single answer or substitute for real progress. Systemic racism was built over hundreds of years and it will take ongoing and intentional work to achieve real change. I hope that as we work on racial issues, we can all do our part to support members of the AU family in ways that are equity-minded. No individual act can eliminate racism or deliver immediate equity. But together, each one helps lay the foundation for a stronger AU community.
Ongoing Action and Engagements
We are directing attention and work to specific areas where we can have an impact in the near term. These include our approach to safety on our campus, supporting the mental health of our students, and our scholarship and research.
Office of Equity and Title IX — The new office announced last week is a critical step in addressing discrimination, harassment, and sexual violence in our community. We are committed to the well-being and safety of our students, faculty, and staff, and this office is part of doing more to support our community through better listening and improved processes. The Office of Equity and Title IX will provide a centralized resource for reporting and investigating incidents, community education and training, and overall accountability on these vitally important issues.
AU Police Department (AUPD) and the Black Community – Recently, a group comprised of the leadership of AUPD; leaders from Campus Life areas including Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Student Engagement, Residence Life, the Dean of Students, and the Center for Diversity and Inclusion; and members of the AU Restorative Justice Working Group met with Black student leaders from AU NAACP and the Black Student Union. This group is engaged in a restorative justice process that began in January. The meetings focused on students’ goals related to the university’s engagement with the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), relevant local laws and policies, ideas for improving AUPD/MPD data transparency, and AUPD’s role in wellness checks, among other topics. AUPD will hold implicit bias training scheduled this summer in line with their enhanced fair and equitable policing policy. The group will continue working together to enhance the safety and security of Black students, and foster ongoing communication, and expand community engagement.
It is important to note that there is no contractual arrangement between AUPD and MPD. AU interacts with MPD in a limited way as defined by the DC laws and regulations that govern MPD involvement for all DC area universities. There are specific circumstances prescribed by regulation when MPD may be called to campus, such as incidents of an active shooter, a significant threat to the community, processing a crime scene, or a death investigation. There is no process for divesting from MPD, though we are committed to minimizing MPD’s presence on campus except for such vital situations.
Mental Health and Addressing Racial Trauma – Black students, faculty, and staff endure enormous pressures from the psychological, social, emotional, and physical impacts of systemic racism and violence against communities of color. Providing support is always a top priority and we are continuing to build our services to meet the needs of students and our Black community in particular. All of our clinicians in the Counseling Center have training in racial trauma and students can request a clinician who shares their racial identity. We created a dedicated section on the Counseling Center’s website focused on confronting injustice, supporting antiracism work, and providing healing and affirmative support for students. We understand the concerns about mental health resources on campus and we are working to address the needs for these services.
The Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) has been at the forefront of supporting our undergraduate students of color, LGBTQ students, and first-generation communities. The steadfast commitment and dedication of the staff have been instrumental in providing an affirming space, facilitating crucial dialogues, and educating the community. The center’s capacity will be stretched by this important effort and we are committed to supporting the important work of the center, including training and learning for students, clubs, and organizations.
The Antiracist Research and Policy Center (ARPC) – As Acting Provost Peter Starr wrote last week, we are grateful for the work that Dr. Ibram X. Kendi began with the founding of ARPC and are looking forward to developing the center’s next chapter. We envision the ARPC as a vibrant intellectual space that brings together scholars from across the university to not only develop new knowledge, but to inform antiracist work right here on our campus. Confronting the legacies of racism and intersectional forms of oppression–in partnership with policymakers, advocates, activists and our community–is essential to our educational mission and broader progress. Our scholars have lent their voices to this critical work, on topics including police accountability, inclusive learning environments, and racial disparities in the Washington, DC region, among many others. We are fortunate to have Christine Platt and Malini Ranganathan leading the center while we conduct the search for a permanent executive director.
Accelerating Work on Racial Equity in our Inclusive Excellence Strategy
In building Years 3 through 5 of our Plan for Inclusive Excellence, the President’s Council for Diversity and Inclusion (PCDI) and the Student Advisory Council engaged in more than 60 listening and feedback sessions with students, faculty, staff, and alumni in the past year. What we heard then, and what is even more resonant now, is that the next phase of our work must have an intentional focus on racial equity. We have made some important progress, but we have much work to do. We know we cannot be fully inclusive without being racially equitable.
Some key areas of enhanced focus in the forthcoming Years 3 through 5 of the Plan for Inclusive Excellence include:
- Expanding access and affordability is fundamental to providing more equitable educational opportunities. We are investing an additional $13 million in financial aid for the upcoming academic year. Our new AU District Scholars initiative awarded full scholarships to 11 students from underrepresented communities in the District of Columbia.
- We will enhance training and learning on racial literacy and racial equity mindedness, especially among our senior leadership. Training and learning matters only if it translates to systemic changes and accountability, and we will report on our actions and progress.
- While we have substantially increased recruitment of faculty of color (56% of new tenure-line faculty hired in fall 2019 identify as faculty of color, and 44% identify as women; over the past three years, an average of 45% of new tenure-line faculty identify as faculty of color, and 42% as women), additional focus must be on improving Black and Latinx faculty recruitment and retention, creating affirming departmental cultures and equitable practices, and addressing the disproportionate burdens of service on faculty and staff of color
- We are looking forward to launching the Black affinity housing this fall. While COVID-19 caused some alteration to our initial plan, this will be an affirming space for our Black students to gather, live, learn, form community, and advance students’ sense of belonging.
- The Inclusive Excellence mini-grants engaged the AU community and advanced pilot projects related to equity. In the next phase, we will earmark some mini-grants to collaborative projects focused on racial equity and Black students’ sense of belonging.
- The American University Experience (AUx) program, now in its third full year, continues to evolve to better meet the needs and concerns of AU students. This summer, recognizing and seeking to address the harm Black students face, the program is incorporating antiracist pedagogy and practices into AUx1 and AUx2 and centering the voices of people of color in the curriculum. The changes are directly based on student, peer facilitator, and instructor feedback and experiences.
Building an antiracist AU that advances racial equity requires hard work, transparency, and accountability. It is my commitment to you that we will continue this work as part of our core strategy and values. In the weeks ahead, AU senior leadership will continue to listen and hear, and identify additional key action steps to take moving forward. We want your feedback; please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts and suggestions. I look forward to the work ahead and the possibilities it holds for realizing our vision for an inclusive AU community.