Reaffirming and Accelerating Brandeis' Commitment to Diversity, Inclusion, and Racial Justice

Dec. 1, 2015

Brandeis University has long viewed itself as an innovative interdisciplinary community of scholars and students united by their commitment to the pursuit of knowledge and social justice. In 1948, in the face of exclusionary admissions and employment practices at institutions of higher education, our founders decided to name our university after the distinguished associate justice of the United States Supreme Court, Louis Dembitz Brandeis. From the beginning, this institution reflected the ideals of academic excellence and social justice that Justice Brandeis personified.  

Our university diversity statement clearly states that we must foster a just and inclusive campus culture that embraces the diversity of our larger society. Our ability to contribute to academic excellence depends on having an academic community whose members come from diverse cultures, backgrounds, and life experiences. But as the recent campus rallies and sit-in in the main administration building have made very clear, many members of our community’s experiences with racism on Brandeis’ campus and society at large have resulted in exclusion, vulnerability, and isolation.  

Draft Implementation Plan for Diversity and Inclusions (pdf)

Therefore, in order to re-commit ourselves to our founding values and principles, we need to engage our community in ways that advance and support a more diverse, inclusive, and academically excellent community at Brandeis. After deep, productive, and thoughtful discussions with students of Ford Hall 2015 and hearing from many members of our community – faculty, students, staff and alumni, we have developed a Draft Implementation Plan for Diversity and Inclusion at Brandeis University, that provides a detailed set of concrete and achievable actions for this engagement (see Appendix A [pdf] for a more detailed summary table).

This Implementation Plan is labeled “draft” to reflect the fact that this is a living document that over time will be augmented to maintain and further advance our lasting commitment to diversity, inclusion, and racial justice. This implementation plan can be summarized into four broad categories.  

Increasing the recruitment and retention of underrepresented students, faculty, and staff of color.

Advancing knowledge requires innovative thinking and scholarship that comes from a community that is diverse and inclusive. With increasing diversity comes new ideas and a willingness to challenge prevailing wisdom. In spite of Brandeis University’s founding commitment to attracting students and faculty from historically underrepresented groups, our progress to date has been more limited than desired, as reflected by the current demographic profile of our students, faculty, and staff. Therefore, we are implementing improved practices to recruit and retain underrepresented students, faculty, and staff of color.  

For the faculty and staff, this means expanding outreach to underrepresented candidates of color; training all search chairs and diversity representatives on search committees on implicit bias; bringing all diversity representatives together on a regular basis to share information at each step of the process; introducing a new target of opportunity hiring program; and developing improved mentoring programs. We anticipate that this will result in a doubling of underrepresented faculty of color at Brandeis by 2021. For staff, we plan to work with the next Vice President for Human Resources to implement best practices associated with the successful recruitment of staff of color.  

For students, the undergraduate admissions office will accelerate its efforts to increase applications from underrepresented students of color. While these efforts have yielded some success in recent years, we plan to accelerate the trajectory of applications from underrepresented students of color with the goal of 5-10 percent annual increases in applications starting Fall 2017. We will also launch a Task Force in January 2016 to develop a new initiative focused on community college recruitment that would result in negotiations with at least two community college partners by Spring 2017.  

For graduate students, all the deans will prepare recruitment and retention plans to increase the diversity of their respective applicant pools with an emphasis on underrepresented students of color. This will include identifying recruitment opportunities and associated diversity initiatives in field-specific professional societies and through faculty interactions at colleges and universities that serve underrepresented graduate and postdoctoral groups. The deans will also develop proposals to enhance graduate student retention through mentoring, career development, and other mechanisms overseen by the office of the Provost.

Enhancing excellence in teaching and learning.

A review of our undergraduate degree requirements is needed for our upcoming reaccreditation process. Therefore, in Spring 2016, the Dean of Arts and Sciences will establish a Task Force composed of faculty, students, and staff (subject to the approval of the Provost) that will begin a review of undergraduate degree requirements. This process, which is expected to take 18 months, will include as one of its mandates consideration of how to incorporate issues of race, equity, and inclusion in university requirements. This process will include a comprehensive audit of the curriculum across departments and schools to identify what is currently offered (and when) on issues of issues of race, equity, and inclusion.

At the same time, it is clear that there is a growing demand from students and faculty for faculty workshops on diversity pedagogy. These workshops will be organized as part of ongoing faculty development through the Center for Teaching and Learning and the Committee for the Support of Teaching. Workshops will begin in December 2015 with a meeting of a faculty learning community for “Discussing Race and Inequality in Our Classrooms.” Additional workshops will be scheduled for the Spring 2016 semester and beyond.  

Accountability and Reporting.

Our ability to implement these plans for diversity and inclusion will require someone to lead those efforts and monitor progress on defined goals. Our existing plan to hire a Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion will be launched early in 2016. This person will be the senior Brandeis official responsible for leading and coordinating efforts to create a diverse, inclusive, and welcoming environment for all students, staff, faculty, alumni/ae, and community partners. Until this position is filled, the University Diversity Steering Committee will report to the President and be responsible for developing metrics to be used for accountability. This will result in an annual “report card” that will be shared with the entire Brandeis community online. In addition a Campus Climate survey focused on diversity and inclusion will be administered in the Spring 2016.

Finally, diversity and inclusion training for all faculty and staff should be common practice across the university. To this end, the current Title IX online training that is mandatory for all faculty and staff will be augmented to include diversity inclusion training beginning in Fall 2016. All members of the senior management team, all Deans, all department chairs and program directors, and all division heads will participate in an in-person diversity and inclusion training by the beginning of the next academic year August 2016. These training sessions will be evaluated for their effectiveness to identify areas for improvement so modifications can be made to future training.

Creating inclusive communities that provide professional development and support for a more diverse community.

Until the Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion is appointed, a staff member reporting to the Associate Provost for Academic Affairs will be identified to serve as an independent, neutral and confidential resource for students to discuss their academic issues and concerns. This person will serve as an interim student ombudsperson until such time that the Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion establishes a structure for a campus ombudsperson/informal dispute resolution role.  

The Hiatt Career Center will ensure that as part of its professional development programming, there are workshops specifically tailored to address issues faced by underrepresented students of color. Topics covered in such workshops would include wage negotiations, career pipelines, networking, and managing co-worker and supervisor relations and conflict. Additional topics and workshops would be added based on student demand. To support additional professional development training, we will hire a career counseling/development professional with experience in programming for undergraduate and graduate students of color. Hiatt will also take the lead in developing a pilot program of mentorship/coaching programs that will better serve our underrepresented students of color, in conjunction with the Brandeis Alumni Association and the Brandeis Alumni/ae of Color.  

The Psychological Counseling Center (PCC) will annually re-assess its capacity to provide culturally relevant support to students of all backgrounds and adjust its training and hiring of staff accordingly. Given current student demand, the PCC will launch a search by January 2016 for an additional staff member, with strong preference for an underrepresented counselor of color, to provide culturally relevant, trauma-informed counseling to students. Outreach efforts for all hires will seek to increase applications from underrepresented counselors of color.

*    *    *

This statement is the result of deep, honest, and productive dialogue over the past week with representatives from students of Ford Hall 2015, and other members of our community. Now this dialogue needs to move back out into the open. Our work has only just begun. It will require the involvement of all the departments, some of which have already issued statements of support for the overall goals of our students and commitments of further actions (see Appendix B). This Implementation Plan includes specific steps that will complement one another to move our campus toward change. These actions need to be sustained over time and we realize that changing institutional practices and culture is a complex process that will generate resistance and conflict. But, given the widespread support I have seen across our campus community over the past week, I am optimistic that we have the capacity to achieve our goals.

With this statement Brandeis University reaffirms its commitment to provide its students, faculty, and staff with an environment conducive to learning and working - where all people are treated with respect and dignity. Toward that end, it is essential that Brandeis be free from discrimination and harassment on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identification and expression, nationality, and other dimensions of identity. The University will not tolerate behaviors that endanger the health, safety, or welfare of any person, on or off campus. This includes implied threats or acts that cause an unreasonable fear of harm in another.

In protecting all groups from discrimination and harassment, we recognize that certain members of our community, especially Black women, sit at the intersection of certain forms of violence, threats, intimidation, and harm. In order to uplift all those who occupy the most vulnerable space in our community, we must understand the structures that disproportionately impact them.  Over the past week our students articulated the impact of exclusion on their Brandeis experience in ways that were startling and disturbing.  With their voices in mind, we remain hopeful that we can and will emerge from recent events as a stronger, more inclusive institution recommitted to our founding values.