Building the premier anti-racist university

Building a premier, anti-racist metropolitan research university.
Building a premier, anti-racist metropolitan research university.

The following email was sent to all UofL faculty, staff and students on Tuesday, July 28, 2020:

In 1997, the Kentucky General Assembly passed HB1—the Postsecondary Educational Improvement Act—which established a goal for the University of Louisville to become a premier, nationally-recognized metropolitan research university. The university’s mission at the time included “a special obligation to serve the needs of a diverse population, including many ethnic minorities and place bound, part-time, nontraditional students.” In the 23 years since the passage of that historic legislation, the University of Louisville has transformed itself from an urban commuter college to a world-class research university that competes for faculty, student and staff talent with the likes of Vanderbilt, Duke, Arizona and Michigan. We serve a more racially and socio-economically diverse student population than most research universities in the country, and we have a unique, abiding and pervasive relationship with the City of Louisville.

But we must do more. In higher education, we have the great good fortune to be able to aspire to the highest ideals of society. In our exploration and growth, I believe universities can be models for the communities in which they exist. Yet, in so many institutions, including our very own, we often fall short of these lofty ideals.  That is why it is more important than ever that we reframe our initial goal of becoming a “premier metropolitan research university,” put into place more than two decades ago.

Now is the time to go beyond—to set a new goal with even higher ambitions.  That’s why today I am announcing the kickoff of the Cardinal Anti-Racism Agenda, which will guide us in becoming the premier anti-racist metropolitan research university in the country.  I am asking for your help in bringing this goal to fruition.

The term anti-racist may be novel to some and even may be frightening to others, but it should not. I believe, on the whole, we are a supportive community of care with a deep respect for the vast diversity of experience and thought found on our campus. The term anti-racist asks that we intentionally act against racism. Simply not being racist is not enough. For this university to rise to the highest ideals to which we aspire, we must model what it means to take meaningful anti-racist action in our work. This work must also happen at the intersections of race and other identities including gender, sexual orientation, ability and socioeconomic background.   

I have always believed talk is cheap, and that action defines who we really are and what we truly believe.  In the months and years ahead, the Cardinal Anti-Racism Agenda will define our actions and guide our work as a university aiming to become the premier anti-racist metropolitan research university in the country.

Since I arrived at UofL, I have shared with you many times that we will be a great place to learn, work and invest because we celebrate diversity, foster equity and strive to achieve inclusion. Now, we will join together in determining how to accelerate this important work.

The initial step in the process is to tap into the collective wisdom of our university community to build a robust agenda. First, it is important to recognize and celebrate past anti-racist initiatives at UofL—the historic initiatives—that have paved the way for our bold action in the future. For instance, did you know that UofL integrated its student body in 1951, several years ahead of the vast majority of our Kentucky peers? Or, that the Department of Pan-African Studies was launched in 1973, making it one of the oldest departments of its kind in the country?

Second, we should respect the ongoing and current initiatives occurring now across the university, where leaders at every level are engaging in anti-racist actions to help UofL achieve its aspirations. For instance, half or more of all new faculty hires in the last year in the College of Business, the College of Education and Human Development and the Brandeis School of Law were people of color. This intentionality on the part of these unit leaders and their teams demonstrate a commitment to anti-racist action in our hiring. Further, a recent study by The Education Trust found that the University of Louisville is one of only three out of the country’s 101 most selective public universities that are providing equal access to the university for Black and Latinx students.  We also recently began construction on a brand new Cultural and Equity Center right in the heart of Belknap campus. Of course, we need more of this intentional work to succeed.

That is where the new initiatives come in, which begin with the development of the actions we must take to realize our vision. Throughout the past seven weeks, I have been fortunate to have engaged in countless conversations with leaders, activists and friends throughout our Louisville Black community and across the nation. From those conversations, it is evident there is an array of perspectives on what must be done to achieve racial equity and there is no quick solution. We are committing to taking anti-racist action, but that does not mean we all will agree a particular action is the right one. We have to be willing to take some risks, try different approaches, evaluate what works and what does not and continue to be courageous and purposeful about prioritizing intersectional anti-racism in our actions.        

The change we need will require all of us. I need your help in defining and refining our Cardinal Anti-Racism Agenda and so have established a website to share the institutional projects that have contributed to and are currently making UofL a more anti-racist university  Please visit the site to contribute to this important discussion and share your ideas about what UofL has done (historic initiatives), is doing (current initiatives) and/or should consider doing (new initiatives) to make our university community decidedly more anti-racist.

In the coming weeks and months, we’ll engage our students, faculty and staff on potential items for our Anti-Racism Agenda.  Some members of our community have already recommended key areas for us to address, such as this list provided by the Department of Sociology’s Diversity, Equity; and the Student Government Association has launched an anti-racism education initiative, promoted via SGA social media. These recommendations and early actions guided our work on initial steps to support the launch of the Cardinal Anti-Racism Agenda.    

To build this agenda with specific actions to affect change in these areas, we will continue to listen to the input of the campus community, particularly those individuals with personal and lived experiences most closely related to the work we seek to do. The Commission on Diversity and Racial Equality (CODRE), with support from the Office of Diversity and Equity, will be tasked with preparing our draft agenda to share with the campus community for feedback. The goal is to gather all input by Labor Day in order to present our proposed Cardinal Anti-racist Agenda to the Board of Trustees on Sept. 24.

As Dr. King reminded us, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” We must each do our part to ensure the original promises of American equality are realized sooner than later. When our framers wrote “all men are created equal” and that there would be “liberty and justice for all,” many were excluded from that vision of this great nation. The legacy of these exclusions still play out in our systems and our institutions today. In this moment in our history, I am hopeful we all will rise to the opportunity to more fully live out the ideals of our nation. I am committed to doing my part and to working with you to make our institution one that can proudly proclaim itself to be the country’s premier anti-racist metropolitan research university. 

Source: Building the premier anti-racist university (UofL News, July 28, 2020)