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Update on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives

Dear Members of the Clark Community,

On June 18, the vice presidents, deans, other senior administrators, and I promised you an update within 30 days on our plan of action to advance the University’s goals of diversity, equity, and inclusion. I am pleased on behalf of my colleagues to provide this update today.

Clark is an extraordinary learning community characterized not only by a commitment to discovery, understanding, and knowledge but also by deep appreciation for their importance to individual lives and change in our society. We are a community that prides itself on fostering a sense of belonging and care for one another. In all ways that systemic racism and other forms of oppression appear at Clark, they undermine our community, harm individuals, and stand in the way of every student experiencing the fullest promise of a Clark education. Much work has been done at Clark across the years, especially in the last decade, to move us ever closer toward a fully inclusive, just, and equitable Clark. But we know we have much work to do.

This work will take many forms, involve all members of the Clark community, and require additional resources. It will strengthen our great University, and our efforts and progress must and will be ongoing. I therefore will be working with the University’s Board of Trustees, the University’s leadership team, and faculty governing bodies to allocate significant new resources to these efforts. Shared governance requires careful discussion about the allocation of major new investments, and these will be major. We will announce our specific financial commitments as soon as these important deliberations are resolved.

As a research-university community, we also must take the opportunity to learn together about the history of racism in this country and what that history and the experience of others can teach us about our own roles in effecting change. We will do this, of course, through research and coursework, lectures, and conferences. But some of this work will also have to be done by individuals and done in each person’s own way. Toward that aim, I am announcing that effective next year, Clark will make June 19—known variously as Juneteenth, Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, and Emancipation Day—a paid day off for all employees. Juneteenth celebrates the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the United States. My goal in providing time away from work on this momentous anniversary is to encourage reflection and promote awareness about the history of race in our country. And while this day occurs outside the normal academic calendar, our hope is to explore the opportunity for special related programming that could provide a special educational opportunity around this anniversary in service to the entire Clark community. (For 2021, please note that the University will observe Juneteenth several days after Saturday, June 19, which is the day before Commencement based on the modified academic calendar for the coming academic year.)

As you may recall, in our June 18 letter, we committed to updating you specifically on actions and proposals related to such matters as the following:

  • New investments the University can make in practices or personnel to recruit, retain, and support students from Black and other historically underrepresented communities.
  • New practices the University can implement to train and inform staff and faculty in bias awareness and anti-racist practices.
  • Steps to better understand the lived experience of Clark students, employees, and alumni with Black and other historically underrepresented identities so that we can learn from errors, fix them, and implement systemic change.
  • Initiatives to create and sustain new partnerships with faculty to build curricular offerings that accelerate how a Clark education helps uncover and eradicate the deep roots of systemic and institutional racism.

Below I provide a summary of initial actions and programmatic initiatives that we are pursuing with determination now. These actions include a number of steps that are responsive to demands expressed by the Black Student Union (BSU). Before the end of the fall semester, as discussions across campus continue, we will announce additional steps. Our intention is to continue building on the work already done, learn from our successes and failures, and make these efforts a full reflection of our institutional values.

Next week, we will launch a website that includes additional details on the items summarized below as well as other initial actions. We also intend for this website to provide a regular community reference-point for Clark’s range of actions in these areas. We will update the site regularly around these and other initiatives, including quarterly email updates across the next two years and annually thereafter.

Undergraduate Admissions

Our College Admissions office is pursuing several efforts to recruit and enroll more Black and historically underrepresented students, including taking the following recently implemented and new staffing steps:

  • Admissions will fill two additional admissions counselor positions over the course of the coming year to aid in the work of ensuring a strong pool that includes historically underrepresented candidates.
  • In September 2019, all Clark admissions counselors attended a day-long training on anti-bias awareness and practices in admissions and recruitment and financial support was allocated to ensure that such professional development will continue and be built upon into the future.
  • In May 2019, Admissions created and filled a new position, Assistant Director of Admissions for Access and Inclusion. This role is focused on building effective partnerships internally and externally, as well as helping to identify and remove structural barriers in the admissions process.

Graduate Admissions

Starting two years ago, the Office of Graduate Admissions began giving special attention to recruiting a more diverse pool of students from both U.S. and international locations. Recent related actions include:

  • In 2019, the office added a full-time recruiter focused on the African sub-continent as well as Central and South America.
  • Enhanced domestic recruitment efforts through partnerships with agencies such as the Peace Corp and Teach for America.

Curriculum

Institutional racism has been a concern of our faculty for many years. Recently the faculty have been exploring how teaching, coursework, and the content of courses can avoid a colonized representation of subject matter and implicit bias or racism. These initiatives include the following:

  • The Dean of the College, the Dean of the Faculty and the Associate Dean and Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) are working with a grassroots faculty effort to more rapidly advance approaches to decolonizing the curriculum. They are also addressing issues in the classroom environment. These efforts include not only faculty development but also Peer Learning Assistant (PLA) training.
  • Several faculty members are planning events and workshops for the coming academic year around decolonizing the curriculum and anti-racist pedagogy. This work is being coordinated by the Center for Gender, Race, and Area Studies (CGRAS), CETL, and the Higgins School of Humanities. The faculty have also formed a working group on anti-racist pedagogy, which has met twice. Among other roles, this group will work in conjunction with CETL to create programming and other efforts that propagate anti-racist pedagogy as part of ongoing faculty development.
  • We will be committing new resources to CGRAS that will enable it to more fully develop and enhance curricular offerings, professional development in conjunction with CETL, and research related to anti-racist and decolonized academic practices.

Cultural Competency and Anti-racism Training

As we indicated in our June 18 letter, we are committed to implementing training and practices that will make equity, diversity, and inclusion truly shared responsibilities at Clark. Our related steps thus far include the following:

  • Clark’s Chief Officer of Diversity and Inclusion (CODI),  the Dean of the College, and the Dean of Students are working together to provide anti-racism training before summer’s end for all student mentors (Peer Mentors, Residential Advisors, ACE/Connections mentors). Peer Mentors would then moderate discussions based on this training with first-year students.
  • The University is pursuing a partnership with several nearby colleges and universities to expand Clark’s award-winning Diversity and Inclusion Certificate Program on campus and beyond. This program supports cultural competency and awareness-building for staff, faculty, and graduate students. The program typically attracts about 100-120 Clark representatives per year. We think it can be readily adapted for an online instructional format and thereby reach more people on our campus more quickly. Nearby institutions have expressed interest in partnering with Clark so that their own community members can join Clark’s in the program.
  • The Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) has been in contact with the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ) to build an anti-racism training program for Clark, starting with senior leadership (as we pledged in our June 18 email).

Improving Our Bias Incident Response

ODI has begun revamping the current Bias Incident Response Protocols into a comprehensive Bias Incident Response Program. Some key components will include:

  1. Convening our Bias Response Team and other campus partners (e.g., Residential Life) to review and expand the existing protocol.
  2. Reviewing our current related processes of case management and developing educational models that better support individuals impacted by such incidents and help minimize their recurrence.
  3. Updating the incident-reporting platform to improve its usability and data collection.
  4. Adjusting Clark’s related policies in accordance with state and federal laws.
  5. Launching a campus-wide communications effort to promote widespread awareness of the new approach and how to file incident reports.

Student Life Space

As part of upcoming campus-planning work, we will be investigating how best to add and invest significantly in dedicated new space for student gatherings, including spaces that allow close discussion among people with shared interests, life backgrounds, and other dimensions of the student experience.

 Mental Health

Effective mental health services are essential to Clark’s mission of providing a healthy and productive learning environment. In a diverse campus community, meeting that mission requires attention to the differing experiences of underrepresented students. Our steps to improve the University’s services in this area include the following:

  • Under the leadership of its Diversity Specialist, CPG will improve support of the mental health needs of marginalized students at Clark, including the delivery of multicultural training to CPG staff, as well as implementing related workshops and events for underrepresented students through the Office of Multicultural and First Generation Student Support.
  • This fall we will initiate a search for an additional Diversity Specialist to provide individual and group clinical care particularly for students of color.
  • In fall 2019, CPG added a new confidential resource for students seeking a professional therapist after normal counseling center hours. [Students can obtain this mental health support after hours (i.e., between 5 p.m. and 9 a.m. on weekdays and 24 hours on weekends) by calling the counseling center at (508) 793-7678 and selecting option #2 on the voicemail prompt.]

Athletics

Besides building competitive ability, good health, and teamwork, our athletics programs aim to build leadership skills. As part of change at Clark:

  • Clark Athletics has developed educational programs focused on strengthening appreciation for diversity and inclusion and related skills among student-athletes, coaches, and staff.
  • Team captains and leaders will participate in the same anti-racism training provided to resident and peer advisers.
  • We are developing committees involving student-athletes, coaches, and staff who will be charged with informing and helping to advance the spirit and the actions of diversity and inclusion across our athletics programs.

Policing and Campus Safety

The recent national protests have brought much-needed attention to police violence against Black people, as have representatives of BSU. We are proud of the Clark University Police Department (CUPD) and their professionalism and sensitivity to policing in the context of a college environment. We also are open to other models of campus policing that may best serve Clark, even as we continue to work with and improve our current model. Steps in these directions include:

  • We began a search for a new chief of CUPD earlier this summer to succeed Chief Steve Goulet, who has served Clark in this role for the past 31 years and is retiring next month. During this process, we will convey to candidates our deep interest in police leadership committed to understanding the felt experience of policing among underrepresented communities. In part with this important objective in mind, we have added a member of BSU to the search committee.
  • We also will fill the chief of police position with someone who appreciates our openness to developing a different model of campus policing and security in the near future. Toward that end, we will explore other methods of providing campus safety and security—including innovative approaches to campus safety at other colleges and universities across the country—and whether the traditional model of armed university police officers on regular patrol is best for Clark.
  • We will enhance anti-bias and de-escalation training for our current University police personnel.

Business Diversity

In addition to continuing our efforts to employ a more diverse faculty and staff, Clark will be working to identify and contract with more women- and minority-owned businesses to provide services and supplies to the University.

President’s Diversity Advisory Council

As I mentioned at the outset of the letter, as important as specific efforts like the above actions are, our ultimate goal is sustained, comprehensive, and lasting progress that makes diversity, equity, inclusion, and excellence not only essential aspects of our values but also essential to how we operate as a University—across all aspects of Clark’s work—and to how we study, work, and live together.

Toward that end, I am empowering the President’s Diversity Advisory Council (PDAC) to play an instrumental leadership and assessment role in this priority. PDAC, which includes students, faculty, staff, and administrators, was established several years ago to assist the Chief Officer of Diversity and Inclusion in carrying out that office’s aims and to set benchmarks. I am now re-conceiving PDAC’s focus to be more comprehensive and action-oriented for the campus community at large. This new charge will include our asking PDAC to take on several critical strategic responsibilities:

  1. To coordinate University-wide efforts around diversity, equity, and inclusion, including partnering not only with ODI but also with offices and organizations across campus, including faculty and administrative governance bodies.
  2. Through that effort, to ensure we take meaningful action around our diversity, equity, and inclusion goals, including in the curriculum, cultural life, campus social experience, student and personnel recruitment and retention, and more.
  3. Working with partners across campus, to develop actionable steps that Clark can take in a systemic, sustained, and impactful way based on qualitative, quantitative, and anecdotal evidence.
  4. To initiate this new focus on action by prioritizing progress in the following areas:
  • Faculty curriculum in partnership with the Faculty Steering Committee and the Undergraduate Academic Board
  • Anti-Racism/Cultural Competency Training for each constituency (faculty, staff, students)
  • Campus safety
  • Re-envisioning the bias response protocols in partnership with ODI
  • Increasing compositional diversity for students, faculty, and staff

In all this work, we will be building on ClarkForward, the initiative started several years ago that is designed to guide Clark in building evidence-based strategies to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion,  in all aspects of Clark’s operations. ClarkForward’s survey work has provided valuable insights into areas where Clark can and must improve to become the community we aspire to be. We are indebted to the students, faculty, and staff who have done so much work already and, at the same time, who are drawing attention to how much we must change for the better. This commitment to making Clark better, and the honesty about the work still required, give me confidence about the progress ahead.

I look forward to sharing further updates with you and, especially, to the difference we can make together in bringing Clark closer to our values and ideals.

Sincerely,

David B. Fithian

President