Taking Action to Confront Racism 

President Ioannis Miaoulis shares a message to the RWU community in the wake of recent murders in the Black community.

Dear RWU community, 

As the nation comes together in a moment of solidarity and reflection around George Floyd’s funeral today, I am reflective of this being an incredible time of learning and growth for the country and for me personally. I have been listening, reading emails sent to me by students, faculty, staff and alumni, educating myself, and growing toward a deeper understanding of the issues. RWU can and will do better. As university leaders, we must recommit to placing equity, justice and inclusion at the center of our values as an institution.  

While the complexities of systemic racism and oppression do not lend themselves to simplistic statements, let me say this: Black lives matter. Systemic violence against Black lives is unjust and wrong. And we must do our part to end systemic injustice where it exists on our campus. Higher education plays a vital role in raising awareness, encouraging open and honest dialogue, asking the difficult questions and owning the difficult answers about how we contribute to structural violence and the enduring legacy of racism. 

What I have heard from many of you is that now is the time for action, not more words. We are at a critical inflection point in our national history and in our our institutional history for diverse opinions: in both settings, this is a time of powerful momentum for change. From within our own campus community, I have been urged by the voices of our students, alumni and employees who press for swift and immediate actions.

These are the first steps RWU is moving forward with now to take action: 

  • Students will partner with the Chief Diversity Officer and other colleagues to co-create a campus community conversation. This dialogue will be held virtually on Wednesday, June 24. The entire RWU community is invited to join this important discussion and reflection. More details will be shared on how to join the event. 
  • I recognize, however, that this work starts with me and with my leadership team. That is why I am committing that University leadership will participate in diversity training with social justice educators Kathy Obear and Jamie Washington this fall. And we commit to further equity-capacity-building sessions annually. 
  • We will soon share information about the urgent process to search for our next Chief Diversity Officer. We will use this process to engage a national firm to listen to what is working, what is not, to shape the position, and to continue to support diversity, equity and inclusion work across the University, University College, and School of Law and to identify the next places we need to go as a campus community. 
  • We will ensure that new incoming students this fall and going forward will complete a comprehensive social justice education during Orientation before classes begin. We further commit to accelerating the expansion of racial justice education for all students to include addressing the history of Bristol and Providence’s integral roles in the slave trade. 
  • The Office of Student Life will partner with students to revise the bias response process to ensure an equitable and just system. Student Life, the Intercultural Center, and Academic Affairs will work collaboratively this summer with student organizers to assess and implement specific action ideas. 
  • The ongoing advancement and implementation of the Equity Action Plan must continue now and into the upcoming year. Each section of the Equity Action Plan has been assigned a Vice President to champion the work, ensuring accountability that these vital actions will move forward. Additionally, the different sections of the equity plan will be overseen by the following shepherding groups: 
    • Student Access, Success and Equity: Leading for Change Higher Education Consortium 
    • Employee Access, Success and Equity: Human Resources and diversity team 
    • Education, Scholarship and Service: ESS group 
    • Infrastructure and Leadership: Board of Trustees Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee and University Cabinet 
    • Campus Climate: Advisory committee comprised of faculty and staff members 
  • Highlighting initiatives generated from the Equity Action Plan such as the RGA Leadership Academy, the Pathway to Purpose, and Bias Education group, detailed information about our current diversity, equity and inclusion efforts is available here: https://www.rwu.edu/who-we-are/diversity-equity-inclusion

We must provide resources and support to our community at this time. The Student Life leadership from our Counseling Center, Center for Student Academic Success, and Intercultural Center will add their voices of support and solidarity with our Black students and Black employees in a joint message that will be sent shortly to all students and employees. This communication will provide a list of resources that we all can access to seek support and further education.  

I recognize that this is long-term work, there is no quick fix, and this work will require uncomfortable conversations and pushing boundaries. But the alternative – remaining at the status quo – is unacceptable. We must deepen our commitment to this work. We must embrace the difficult dialogues, confront the issues head-on, and demand equity and justice for Black, indigenous, and all people of color. That is the work ahead of us.