A Time to Act

President Kerwin outlines a plan with five areas for immediate action.

Taking concrete steps to improve the racial climate on campus, American University President Neil Kerwin has outlined a plan to create a more inclusive academic community. In a memorandum released on Monday, Kerwin identified five specific areas for immediate action:

1. Establish a presidential council to provide oversight on these plans, monitor institutional progress, and make new recommendations.

2. Work with the Faculty Senate to introduce a mandatory course, by Fall 2017, on diversity and inclusion for all first year and transfer students, and address the subject matter in at least one other required course. A pilot in 2016-17 will inform the content of these courses. In the interim, AU will enhance the content of the diversity and inclusion session in the 2016 Eagle Summit and orientation programs for new students.

3. Revise and elevate awareness of campus discrimination policies, and enhance avenues of support to members of the community who experience bias or threats.

4. Reallocate five tenure or tenure track faculty positions to ensure that AU hires more minority professors.

5. Develop programs to cultivate inclusive classrooms, including an entry program for newly appointed faculty and dialogue sessions for current faculty.

This plan follows a period of listening to underrepresented racial and ethnic minorities on campus. In December, Kerwin promised to release a strategy to combat racism and foster a more inclusive environment for AU students.

Along with the feedback he received, Kerwin said other sources reinforce the need for action. “The AU Campus Climate Survey and the National Survey of Student Engagement show that gaps persist in support and satisfaction of students of color compared with students overall,” he wrote.

Some of these issues surfaced on social media. Racist and hateful posts have appeared on Yik Yak, an application that can locate commenters within a 10-mile radius of the university. The posts disturbed many people on campus and underscored the challenges facing the entire community.

In the memo, Kerwin noted how communities across the country are confronting the legacy of slavery and the persistence of racism. Based on AU’s founding values of equality, diversity, justice, human rights, and public service, he feels that the university is well positioned to tackle this problem.

He wrote that there is “perhaps no institution better suited than The American University to reflect the nation’s population, strive for its highest ideals, and lead a path toward greater diversity and real inclusion.”

If you want to read the entire memo, click here.