In the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police in Minneapolis and the ensuing nationwide outcry against police killings of African Americans, UNC’s administration issued a message of empathy and shared outrage that included a list of current and future initiatives toward racial healing.
The message, sent on June 11 to the campus community and signed by Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz, Provost Robert Blouin and Interim Chief Diversity Officer Sibby Anderson-Thompkins ’87 (’90 MA), reads:
“Many of you have reached out to us during the past week, and we share your outrage over the horrific violence against African American and Black people and the urgency for real and immediate change. Since we last wrote to you, our country has come together in unprecedented ways to respond to the hurt, anger and pain overwhelmingly felt by Black people and to call for action. Peaceful protests and campaigns have opened new dialogues, including national conversations about structural racism and social justice.
“Yet, painful issues surrounding race and racism continue to plague our country and our University, and we know that we have much work to do. We have been speaking with Black students, faculty and community leadership, as well as many others from campus. We are listening. We have heard the raw emotions about injustices suffered by our African American and Black colleagues for far too long.
“We will be agents of change at Carolina, and it will start with us. We acknowledge that Carolina has moved too slowly to enact change throughout its history. We haven’t done enough to align our actions with our aspirations to be a fully inclusive campus community. While we must continue to listen and learn, we must also move forward with a greater sense of urgency, purpose and action, starting today.
“In January, we announced that the first strategic priority in Carolina Next: Innovations for Public Good is ‘Build Our Community Together,’ which focuses on prioritizing diversity, equity and inclusion, and investing in policies, systems and infrastructure that promote belonging, accountability and transparency throughout the University community. We were deliberate and intentional in making this our first and top priority, and in December, we committed to investing and financially supporting this important work. We must put real action and financial support behind our words if we are to truly be the leading global public research university we aspire to be.
“Today, we want to inform you of the actions we are taking to support campus-wide dialogue, healing and structural change.
• “Over the last year, we have been diligently developing a campuswide diversity, equity and inclusion network that was informed by the community building forums held last fall. As part of that effort, we have embedded diversity officers in schools and units across campus to help us implement the strategic opportunities identified in Carolina Next.
• “In May, we formalized this infrastructure by charging our inaugural Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council, comprised of diversity officers from our schools and units, to serve as a permanent advisory board to the Chief Diversity Officer and the senior leadership team. This Council reports directly to the Chief Diversity Officer and will explore equity models for structural change at Carolina. The Council will also examine University policies, practices and infrastructure to bring about structural change and develop measurable actions with key performance indicators to evaluate our progress.
• “Over the next academic year, the University will implement campus climate surveys and develop metrics and benchmarks for annually tracking and reporting of diversity, equity and inclusion efforts across schools and units.
• “This summer, the University Office of Diversity and Inclusion will host Racial Equity Institute training for senior leaders, including vice chancellors, vice provosts and deans. More than 3,000 people in our community have already completed this informative and engaging workshop.
• “This fall, we will implement an online diversity, equity and inclusion training, similar to our required Title IX awareness and violence prevention training, for every person in our community to learn new concepts, broaden perspectives and allow us to work from a common set of terms.
• “We are pleased that the Sonja Haynes Stone Center, in acknowledging with us that space is important, has donated an area in their building that will be dedicated for use by African American students and their organizations to gather and hold meetings and events.
• “We have asked every dean and every division and department head to revisit their hiring practices, to the fullest extent possible under the law, so that we may welcome and sustain a workforce that can meet the needs of our diverse student body and our state.
• “Starting this fall, the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment will develop contemporary instruments and establish metrics and benchmarks to annually track diversity, equity and inclusion efforts across schools and units.
• “In the wake of COVID-19, the leadership team adopted an evidence-based diversity, equity and inclusion crisis action strategy to ensure that we are asking culturally relevant questions to avoid unconscious bias in our decision-making, supporting diverse communities, applying inclusive and accessible online learning pedagogy and communicating thoughtfully and inclusively.
• “We know that our students, faculty and staff need to support each other now more than ever, and the University Office of Diversity and Inclusion, in collaboration with campus partners, will offer virtual community sessions to provide space for open and honest conversation. Many schools and units, including the School of Medicine, Gillings School of Global Public Health, the Graduate School, Carolina Black Caucus, and others have already started offering these sessions, and we thank them for providing opportunities for this important dialogue.
• “In July, we will launch a leadership advancement program for tenured and tenure-track underrepresented faculty to provide career development skills, operational competencies and professional networking opportunities to encourage and promote career advancement at Carolina.
• “This work builds on important efforts already underway by the Commission on History, Race and a Way Forward, the Campus Safety Commission and the Student Learning to Advance Truth and Equity, that focuses on history, race, reckoning and the American South. The action steps listed above are just the start of our commitment to you, and we will provide regular updates and announce other initiatives in the weeks and months ahead.
“We stand in solidarity with our faculty, students, staff and alumni in denouncing systemic racism, hate speech and white supremacy. And we will continue to listen, engage and demonstrate through actions our commitment to build a lasting culture of respect, inclusivity and belonging among our community.”