The President's Commission for Inclusive Excellence (PCIE) is an institutional advisory board at the University of Vermont whose primary mission is to advance the strategic diversity and inclusion goals of the university.
Learn more about our commitment to inclusive excellence at UVM.
Fall Listening Sessions Follow-Up
January 6, 2021
Dear UVM community,
We look toward the year ahead with hope, after a challenging year that has tested us on multiple fronts. We are particularly grateful for the strength and resilience of our community. At the same time, we recognize that the turmoil and rising public outcry over injustices related to diversity, equity, and inclusion have deep-seated roots and require an urgent response. A social movement, ignited by the tragic death of George Floyd, reminded our country and community that the grip of racism continues to plague us. How we respond speaks not only to who we are now, but who we want to be in the future.
Last semester, in response to a request from the president, the President’s Commission for Inclusive Excellence (PCIE), the Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and representatives from our governance bodies (Faculty Senate, Staff Council, Graduate Student Senate, and Student Government Association) hosted listening sessions for our UVM community. We wanted to better understand how racism was impacting our campus community and what we as leaders in the community could do in response.
Following these listening sessions, PCIE met several times with us to share the hurt, frustration and hope they heard from members of our community. As we listened to members of the PCIE who shared your stories with us, we felt the pain of the challenges many of you have faced and the passion you have for wanting to make real change. PCIE also shared specific themes and recommendations from the listening sessions. They were candid with us, and we want to share what we learned and what we will do in response.
The following are the five primary recommendations drawn from the themes that emerged from the listening sessions. To address each recommendation, we have included both new initiatives developed from what we heard and also some initiatives already in place.
1. Build Trust
It is clear that we need to build trust, and that all levels of the administration and leadership are critical to this important journey. Many listening session participants shared that they are suffering but are fearful of outwardly expressing their concerns. For many of our BIPOC faculty and staff, we understand it was not only challenging to speak up during the listening sessions but there was frustration in repeatedly telling their stories without feeling genuine change.
In response, we will expand our approach and the platforms we use to engage with our university community, to be a part of the solution, and to be held accountable for responding to the concerns of our UVM community. To begin, we will increase dialogue with members of our BIPOC community. We will ask managers at all levels to listen to and engage in regular conversations with their employees and students about climate issues related to diversity, equity and inclusion and then act on those conversations. We also will work with the Office of Professional Development and Training and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to ensure leaders and managers understand how to engage in supportive dialogue with their staff in a way that builds trust and allays fears of retribution.
2. Acknowledge and Affirm Black Lives Matter
We understand there are different perspectives on how individuals share their affirmation that Black Lives Matter. We acknowledge the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement to members of our UVM community and affirm, on behalf of the University of Vermont, that Black Lives Matter.
3. Catalyze Change
Comments shared during the listening sessions highlighted an increased need to recognize that racism in all its forms is incompatible with Our Common Ground values. We will accelerate and underscore our efforts to recognize racism and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in our community. This includes but is not limited to:
- Bolstering efforts such as the newly launched Student Opportunity, Access, and Recruitment (SOAR) initiative, which aims to raise $150 million to create more equitable paths to opportunity at UVM. A core component of SOAR is the President’s Common Ground Scholarship to support underrepresented and underserved students.
- Fostering opportunities in research centered on the needs and issues important to historically marginalized or underrepresented populations, as part of UVM’s focus on healthy societies.
- Supporting, evaluating, and energizing existing efforts focused on inclusive excellence, such as:
- Listening to our BIPOC community members regarding their concerns and recommendations.
4. Coordinate and Align Efforts
PCIE also emphasized the need for and value of better coordination and alignment of our university-wide efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion. They recommended we draw on lessons learned from UVM’s pandemic response, encouraging university leadership to use working groups across functional areas to promote inclusive excellence. We will follow a similar approach, with working groups convened by the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). Based on PCIE’s recommendations drawn from your words, our senior leadership team will be initiating or expanding the following:
- The Provost’s Office in collaboration with the Office the Vice President for DEI and the Division for Student Affairs is creating a Diversity and Inclusive Excellence Co-Curricular Working Group to:
- Assess a pilot effort to institute module-based bias training for students, faculty and staff.
- Inventory existing co-curricular diversity experiences occurring across campus (including activities noted in the Inclusive Excellence Plans of all units).
- Analyze the efficiency, effectiveness, and spectrum of the current array of these experiences and activities.
- Propose an undergraduate diversity co-curriculum consisting of a menu of activities–which may be new, existing, or reflect the expansion or re-design of current programs.
- Each academic and administrative unit has designed—and will continue to maintain—an Inclusive Excellence Action Plan specific to its work and mission. These plans were developed in alignment with the university's Framework for Inclusive Excellence. All units are being required to report on their progress for each goal identified in their plans annually and include ways they incorporated information from the 2019 Climate Survey into the plans.
- We are asking all academic units to have student advisory boards that consist of a broad diversity of students, particularly students from underrepresented backgrounds, to ensure regular and timely communication between students and academic leadership.
The Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion has also suggested the creation of a University Diversity Council that has broad, diverse representation from academic and administrative units. The Council would serve as an umbrella group to advise the Vice President regarding efforts to intentionally and actively engage each college and division to support meaningful advancements regarding diversity, inclusion, equity, cultural competency and civility.
5. Promote Understanding of Racial Trauma, Mental Health, and Well-Being in the Workplace
The final theme that emerged from the listening sessions was the impact of racial trauma on the mental health and overall well-being of our community. This was a valuable insight for us as we consider the best ways to support our students, faculty and staff of color as they navigate both personal circumstances as well as the changes and difficult moments experienced in the workplace. To this end, we will take on the following actions:
- UVM’s Center for Health and Wellbeing will continue its work to support students in our community affected by racial trauma as well as partner with other groups and organizations in our education and outreach efforts.
- The Division of Human Resource Services will evaluate employee assistance programs to ensure responsiveness to the needs of a diverse faculty and staff population.
- We will build upon existing programs to provide all UVM employees with training opportunities in areas such as implicit bias, systemic racism, racial trauma, and wellness. As an example, a bias training module will be piloted this spring semester. We hope to have it fully implemented in fall 2021 following feedback from faculty and staff. Bias training for students will also be piloted this summer and fall, following feedback on the training from our student leaders this spring.
To promote continued information gathering and better access to that information, we will keep you regularly updated on feedback received and actions taken. This information will be located at a dedicated section on the webpages of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. We also welcome your additional suggestions related to this work and how you might wish to be involved in the implementation of these actions.
We look forward to continuing our work with the UVM community to implement these recommendations and expand actions in our current initiatives to address diversity, equity and inclusion across the institution.
Suresh Garimella, President
Patricia Prelock, Provost and Senior Vice President
Wanda Heading-Grant, Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion