Diversity at UVM

You might ask what is the problem?

Particularly in the last summer, we have heard a serious “concern” on campus around issues of race.

In October, the University was the model of First Amendment expression when the Black Lives Matter flag was flying on the campus for several days – until the flag was stolen.

That act of theft and the length of time until the investigation came to an end, caused discomfort, hurt, and feelings of resentment especially by some students, faculty and staff of color.

Through the convening of several campus discussions around these issues in April and May, it has become clear that we have serious issues of race on campus, that need to be addressed by all of us as ">leaders on this campus.

Naming it

Today, at this meeting, I am calling for a sense of “urgency” around discussions and actions relating to issues of race.

This conversation and related action steps need to be a priority for us as leaders and members of this community.  As campus leaders, we need to own this issue.

Why is this important at this time?

Some students left the campus for the summer feeling hurt by the flag theft and related race issues around campus.

This fall we will have the largest number of students of color than we ever have had at UVM.

Why a focus on race, now, at UVM?

When our students arrive on campus in August, there needs to be a perceived and actual sense that UVM is a welcoming University.

·        But to be a truly “welcoming” University, UVM needs to be an “inclusive” University also.

·        We need to create the sense of “urgency” that diversity and race are important fully a part of “values” at UVM.

Our short and long term goals must be to build and promote a culture of open expression and inquiry, done in a respectful and civil manner, so that our “learning” and “living” environments promote true feeling of belonging, comfort, safety, and confidence.

Without these attributes of safety, confidence, and comfort, “real learning” and “success” can’t be achieved.

We hear stories of “micro aggression”, small acts of bias, often perhaps not intentional, that can and do hurt.

·        In the classrooms and outside the classrooms

Words can be insensitive, wrong and/or even naïve, but still have negative consequences.  If there is hurt or “unsafe” feelings due to words or actions, there will be barriers to learning and more truthful communications, resulting in less learning and less success for our students.

We need, together, to identify and understand where on campus those barriers exist that chill a feeling of confidence and comfort. 

Action steps going forward

Clearly, UVM has made much progress over the years, mostly incrementally. 

Now, we need “bolder, more coherent, cohesive approach” to achieve better results for all our UVM community.

We need to look, fundamentally, at our:

  • Structures
  • Systems
  • Policies
  • Practices, and
  • Norms

To identifying and changes when we can, barriers to learning and success that center around race.

Rather than what might appear to be stand alone, ad hoc approaches to solutions, we need solutions that will run “pervasively” throughout the University, in our colleges, departments, in our administrative offices, departments, local units – with all of taking “ownership” of these University-wide issues.

At every corner of the University, we need to work together toward a goal of “inclusive excellence” on diversity matters.

Although there are some legal issues and policies that precludes us making certain changes from established policies and procedures, all of us, as leaders, need to identify opportunities for change in a timely way where we can.

We have much in place to help us now in moving positively forward, such as:

1)    Standing Commission – the President’s Commission on Diversity and Inclusion is working on a Framework for Inclusive Excellence with a call for action plans for deans and vice presidents and central leadership.

2)    Finally, we have heard much recently, perhaps more than any other single topic, about classroom experiences and certain curriculum issues that are disturbing.

The D1 and D2 General Education Requirements have been a regular subject of concern around “race” issues in the classroom.  They range from faculty assignments and preparedness to teach these classes, to course content, to racial conflicts in the classrooms in these courses.

While the curriculum and the General Education Requirements are the “domain” of the Faculty Senate, which is establishing an “Assessment Process” for each of the General Education Requirements, we all need to work together to understand where the breakdowns are occurring and why there is, as reported, so much misunderstanding around the goals of D1 and D2, and displeasure with how D1 and D2 courses work.

This is a clear example of where a review, soon, is urgently needed.

I will ask the Provost to discuss this key area in more details in a minute.

In sum, my remarks are meant to be a call for all of us to “step up” now in our leadership roles to address how UVM can be a more welcoming and inclusive University where all our community members can “truly” feel a sense of “belonging”, welcomed, included, and safe.

PUBLISHED

06-05-2017
Krista Lynn Malaney