Update on plans to address racism on campus
Aug. 24, 2020
Dear Members of the Brandeis Community,
I had set an ambitious goal of having action plans developed for review by September 1. In those email messages, I announced the need for a plan to transform our campus, address anti-Black racism, and respond to the anger, fear, and exhaustion that many of our own students, faculty, and staff feel as a result of the racism they encounter in their lives and on our campus. I requested concrete action plans from multiple areas of the university, including Public Safety, Human Resources, Community Living, Athletics, and Academics — including all of our Schools, our Research Centers, and Institutes.
During the summer, administrators, with the support of Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Mark Brimhall-Vargas, began to outline approaches leading to actionable plans with the goal of identifying, and then addressing, issues of racism and inequity on our campus. Though we have made progress, we are not as far as I had envisioned two months ago. All of us in leadership roles, plus many others on campus, have been focused on the immediate challenge of developing and integrating plans to enable us to bring students, faculty, and staff back to campus safely and ensure the financial health of the institution. It is vitally important that we take the necessary time to develop plans that will bring consequential change to the university, and so the original goal of having plans completed by September 1 must be relaxed until they are made public, just prior to the community meetings noted below.
While we were slowed in developing our action plans, many members of the Brandeis community were not. In my June 16 message, I invited individuals and groups to contribute recommendations and plans outside the structure I had noted in that communication. Since then, community members have contributed documents that will be essential components of the plans we ultimately adopt and implement. Last week, I received a set of detailed questions and recommendations from a group of faculty related to campus safety and (student) community life. I also received a document from a group of students who presented its "Black Action Plan." These were both the products of many individuals working many hours, and I am grateful for their committing so much time to improving Brandeis for current and future students of color — and for the entire campus community. I let these groups know that I share their commitment to meaningful change, and that I want to partner with them as we further develop our plans. I, along with some senior administrative colleagues, am scheduled to meet this week with the students, and I look forward to doing the same with the group of faculty who submitted their set of recommendations.
It is important that our current work include the recommendations made, but not yet implemented, by the #FordHall2015 and #StillConcernedStudents movements. Though many of the initiatives agreed upon have been initiated and others are in process, some have not. Many of those recommendations underscore the need for us to rethink long-standing policies, protocols, and systems if we are to counter anti-Black racism on campus.
And so, where do we go from here?
I have asked Mark Brimhall-Vargas and Raymond Lu-Ming Ou, vice president of student affairs, to facilitate a small-group meeting with the student leaders who put together the "Black Action Plan." I am hopeful that the meeting will help us understand the plan and establish a path to integrating their recommendations in both individual action plans across the university and the larger university agenda for identifying and countering anti-Black bias and racism.
This fall, each area drafting action plans will host community meetings on Zoom to share their initial findings and gather critical feedback and recommendations. These sessions will likely take place in late September/early October to ensure that students, faculty, staff, and administrators have had time to adjust to our new campus operating model for the ongoing pandemic.
This fall, we will also share with the community details of the process by which we can re-imagine public safety on our campus — the subject of the faculty letter I recently received.
It is clear that the changes we seek for Brandeis will require sustained focus, resources, an openness to hearing about experiences on campus that are different from our own, and a willingness to address injustices. As I said in a prior message, the administration and I are committed to building a community that is diverse, welcoming, and free from bias and discrimination. I thank you in advance for what I know will be, and must be, a community-wide effort to achieve these goals.